Sunday, December 27, 2009

Bariloche Impressions

We took the 24-hour bus trip to Bariloche from Buenos Aires, and I have to say, I loved it. Yes, it's long, but we got seats that fold all the way back into a bed, and they serve food and drink. I actually appreciated the time to see the scenery (mostly flat pampas with cows)and unwind. In the past few weeks before this two month trip, we were dealing with immigration issues, a lawsuit against our building, finding someone to look after our apartment, etc., so it was nice to have the time to unwind. Going back, we might choose to fly, but I'm glad I did the bus trip at least once. It also gave me a sense of the scale of the vastness of the country. Argentina is huge!

Bariloche is like a little Swiss village in at the base of the Andes. It's beautiful, next to lake Nahuel Huapi, with stunning views all over the place. And really Swiss-like. They take advantage of this- you can get your picture taken with a St. Bernard, eat fondue, buy chocolate at one of the numerous chocolate-makers.

BUT- and this is a big but- this is where the Swiss similarity ends. We're still in South America, as we discovered when taking the bus from the little cabin we rented into town. No one knows how much it is, the stops on one side of the road are not marked, and except for "every twenty minutes" there is no timetable. Not that I care that much-- but I have a feeling that this very imprecise attitude towards transportation doesn't exist in Switzerland.

The scenery is absolutely gorgeous. We haven't been out much yet to explore the surrounding area, as we've been busy settling in and celebrating Christmas, but we will be exploring over the next several weeks by bicycle, bus, etc.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

An Interview with Jill Greenberg

Jill writes the blog First World White Girl and lives in
Buenos Aires.

How did you decide to come to Buenos Aires?

I ended up here by accident. In 2008, I quit my job and decided to take a three-month sabbatical and travel in South America. I decided to start here in BsAs and lived here for about a month and a half before traveling around. I returned a few months later, lived her for six months and jut got back a couple of weeks ago after spending the North American summer traveling in the US and in Colombia.

How long do you plan on staying?
I’ve become sort of a snowbird, so probably until it gets cold.

How is your Spanish? How important do you think it is to learn Spanish here? And how did you go about it?

I didn’t speak really speak Spanish when I first came to Latin America a year and a half ago, but now my Spanish is pretty solid. I am working on my second magazine piece where I have conducted all the interviews in Spanish, which was not easy but it gives me the feeling like, yeah… I finally speak Spanish. Or at least totally understand it.

I love language in general and was super motivated, so I didn’t have too hard of a time picking it up. Since I have been in BsAs, I have lived in houses where I had to speak Spanish and I make it a point to have friends who don’t really speak English or are willing to speak Spanish with me, which is key. I took classes for a while here and will probably get back to it eventually. When I am in the U.S., I always have a Spanish tutor and keep up by reading books or the papers in Spanish. Even watching telenovelas while doing the elliptical helps.

I think it makes a huge difference if you speak the language. There are more things and people accessible to you and nuances that you just can’t catch without it. My Spanish is stronger than when I lived here earlier in the year (because I spent about two and a half months in Colombia) and I feel like I am experiencing and seeing things more deeply because of it.

You write a lot about the cultural differences between North and South America as they affect women. What do you think are the biggest cultural differences in how women are treated here vs. the States?

Men here do lovely things, like open doors for you. Men here also do sketchy things, like ask you to go out with them even if they are married or have a girlfriend. I used to get annoyed about men saying random things to me on the street about how I look, but now I sort of find it charming. I don’t think it comes from a place of something demeaning; in this culture it is a compliment of sorts. Or maybe that’s my coping mechanism talking.

Have you been treated differently? Or does your status as a foreigner leave you somewhat immune from cultural expectations?

I think generally people are more forgiving to a foreigner. If I say or do something that is unusual, they just think, “Oh, she’s a foreigner.” I tried to think of something specific that I have done, but I can’t. BsAs is a pretty cosmopolitan city, so it’s not such a big deal here – people are used to foreigners, particularly North Americans since there are so many of us living here.

All cultural differences have trade-offs. There are things about South America that irk me, but some traditions or cultural norms that have a positive influence. What customs or norms do you find positive?

I love that people kiss hello and goodbye. Just love it. I find myself doing this everywhere and people think I am nuts. Also, people are loud here and as a loud person, it’s nice to be in similar company.

What misconceptions do you think North Americans have about Buenos Aires? About South America in general?

I think most Americans lump it all together. They think it’s all unsafe, dirty and scary. I’ve blogged about this before – there are plenty of cities in the US that are sketchier than many here in South America.

When I went to Colombia, everyone I know was freaked out. They were like, Colombia, really? But I didn’t have any problems at all there and found that people went out of their way to show me how hospitable and safe it was. The same when I was in Cuba – people were incredibly friendly and open.

Does the city get to you sometimes? If so, what keeps you going?

Oh yeah. I am city girl through and through, but sometimes it is too loud, too crowded and too dirty. I try to get out every couple of months by traveling. On a more regular basis, I ride my bike everywhere and if you avoid rush hour and stay to the northern parts of the city, it is quite lovely. I also love to swim and go swimming on a regular basis – the pool is a great place for some peace and quiet.

I see from your blog that you are a HUGE Mets fan. Have you become a fan of any Argentine sports teams?

Nah. I occasionally watch soccer when everyone else is, but baseball is my one and only sport. I sadly had to give up my baseball blog when I began traveling because I didn’t have time to write my traveling blog and my baseball blog. Plus, the Mets totally melted down this season so I am probably better off.

I read that you recently went back on a trip to the States. what did you bring back with you in your suitcase?

Electronics for my Argentine friends, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Yogi Bedtime Tea, Orbit Gum, new running shoes, tons of beauty products, and a Star Wars ship replica for an Argentine friend.

This post was written, in part, for where Julia writes about her expat adventures, as well as on this blog. You can follow her in both places.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Titles and cards

So I finally had personal cards made up. I've been wanting to do this for sometime, so when I go to a social function, I have a card with my phone number and email on it. It is very common here for people to exchange cards.

So when I asked an Argentina friend what I should put on my card, she said that I must decide what title I wanted before my name: Señora (Mrs.), or Licenciada (a degreed person- equivalent in the U.S. to putting B.A., or M.A., etc.).

In the U.S. I wouldn't put any title on a personal card: not even a "Mrs." I would just put my name, and maybe something funky or funny below it, or a picture, and my phone number/email.
It seems a little arrogant to me to put a title on a card of you don't need it. But here, titles carry more importance. Just to make sure, I asked the guy at the printing store of it's customary to put a title, and he said, "If you have one, it's best to put it." So, I decided to go with the academic title instead of Mrs.- because I'm always looking for job opportunities anyway, and it will help people remember me.

Then the question is: English, or Spanish? Lic. is a Spanish title, but should I translate my degree into Spanish? I decided on a compromise-- since my degree was from an American university, I put it in English, but put the title Lic. before my name:

(Of course, it has my email and phone # on it, too, but I didn't want to post that on my blog. )

They will do, but I'm still thinking they are a little stuffy for me. The next batch might be more creative with a made up title. Next time, I might go with: Boolean Goddess, Master of Organizing Shit, or Semantic Ninja.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Back in BsAs


We finally made it back to BsAs. Four months was quite a long time, but it went by pretty fast. I am slowly getting adjusted to being back. It has taken me about a week for me to realize completely where I am.

Rob, on the other hand, adjusted much more quickly than I. I think visiting the States made him realize that it is not really home, that we will be here at least for the forseeable future, and we might as well make ourselves comfortable. So he hit the ground running, and bought a bunch of things to redecorate the living room. I'm grateful for that. One of us needs to have an aesthetic sense. (I'll post some pictures once the living room is finished.)

There are a few things that we want to take advantage of that we didn't do enough of before:
  • Travel: We are committed to seeing more of the country, so that I get to see some scenery every once in a while. I'm not used to living somewhere without hills. We will be going to Bariloche at Christmastime, and I hope to go see more of the north of the country as well.
  • Culture: I want to see more ballet, theatre, music. We did some of that before, but I really need to take more advantage of it since there is so much of it so close. Food for the soul.
  • Socializing: Working from home is great, and I enjoy my alone time, but I need to force myself to socialize more, or I become a melancholy hermit.
  • Spanish: My Spanish definitely improved since I moved here, but I slacked off quite a bit before we left. It's easy to surround myself in an English bubble since I work in English all day. Both Rob and I are scheduled for some classes to brush up. He has been trying to incorporate a lot of Spanish into his conversation lately, which I am really proud of.
So we are both glad to be back, and the trip away has motivated us to try and soak up as much of the place as we can. Remind me to go back and read this post the next time I spend three days inside the apartment working without seeing the sun.

This post was written, in part, for where Julia writes about her expat adventures, as well as on this blog. You can follow her in both places.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Drama Over

Well, it all went very well. I can't say enough for Escondido Endodontics. It is one of the best-run medical offices I have ever been in. Rob was seen at 7:30AM, his face drained, root canal performed, and given prescription strength ibuprofen AND narcotics, just in case he needs it.

He is happily snuggled in bed, watching a documentary with a plethora of soft foods waiting for him.

We are all relieved- both physically and psychologically.

More Dental Nightmare

If you don't want to read about dental sh*t, skip this post. I am writing it more for my own benefit of being able to look back on it later.

It's 6AM Monday morning, and we have an appointment at the endodontist at 7:30AM. We made it through the weekend. Yesterday, thankfully, Rob was starting to feel a little better. I think the penicillin must have started kicking in, because taking ibuprofen seemed to keep the pain at bay without the need for any other pain medication. In fact, Rob was starting to feel a little silly about the scene with the urgent care doctor guy earlier that day.

Until last night. When he dozed off and slammed his teeth together in his sleep.

I have never seen ANYONE in so much pain in my life. It was awful. He took the rest of his pain meds and was agonizing for about twenty minutes. Agonizing doesn't even describe it. How do you describe someone who is at the very limit of their pain threshold? And this is not muscle pain. It's nerve pain. Eyes glazed over, drooling uncontrollably, not knowing whether to walk or sit, clenching fists, groaning, short, shallow breaths. It made ME want to throw up. All I could do was watch.

So, to avoid that incident again, he stayed awake the rest of the night. I dozed and slept, intermittently checking on him. His face is more swollen than it was yesterday. The swelling is all the way up just below his eye. The pain seems to be at bay, however, as long as he does not talk too much or eat anything. He has a low-grade fever, but it hasn't gotten any worse.

Please, please, let this doctor be able to help. All I want is for him to feel better.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Taxes: Everyone Wants Their Piece

Living in a foreign country brings with it a whole host of challenges, not the least of which is figuring out how to pay what to whom. If taxes in the United States aren't complicated enough, now there are two countries to worry about. I'm not an expert at this, and I don't do it all myself, but here is some of what I have learned so far:

Income tax: If you earn U.S. dollars but live abroad, there are some pros and cons:
  • The foreign-earned income exemption: You don't need to pay U.S, taxes on the first 85k you earn in a foreign country. Yes, even if you work for a U.S. company. The hitch is, you have to have been in that country for all but 30 days of the calendar year (which we have not been-- doh!)
  • State Taxes: If you haven't been in the U.S. and don't have a house there, you are not a resident of any state. So you don't pay any state tax, right? Well, each state has different rules about what qualifies as a resident, and CA is VERY tough on this one. You have to be careful how you prove you are not a resident. AND if you are NOT a resident of any state, complications arise with all kinds of other bureaucratic tasks, such as banking.
  • What do I withhold? When I got a job working virtually, my status as an overseas resident stumped the accounting department. What taxes are they supposed to withhold? The solution was to create my own business, and just send the company an invoice. So technically, my boss is my client. Now I have to include the business income on my tax returns.
  • Argentina: Don't know much about Argentine income taxes yet, as we are not residents, But there is no treaty between the countries, and Argentina requires you to pay taxes on worldwide income. No exemptions for what you already paid in the U.S. I'm procrastinating on this one. Needless to say, I will try my hardest to stay within the letter of the law in both countries while not getting f**ked. (I know what you are going to say- it doesn't matter whether you are a resident- only the length of time you have been there.... *has hands over ears* BLAH BLAH BLAH- I CAN'T HEAR YOU....)
Property Taxes:
  • If you own property in Argentina, you have to pay annual property taxes on that property (usually about 1.5% of the purchase price.) NO ONE WILL TELL YOU THIS UNLESS YOU ASK ABOUT IT, AND THERE IS NO BILL. If you don't pay these taxes, you won't be able to sell the property in the future without a lot of complications. An Argentine accountant needs to register the payment with the government, so don't do this by yourself. This is different than the tax bills you get to cover the cost of city services (below:)
  • City taxes: I don't know about other cities, but in Buenos Aires, you get a quarterly bill for a tax that covers the cost of trash pickup, etc. Not very expensive, but don't pay the bill late, or you will have to take 1/2 a day to go do it at the city office.
Sales Taxes:
  • Taxes on imported goods in Argentina are insane. You can end up paying twice or three times the cost of electronic equipment you would pay in the U.S. All I can see this doing is keeping laptops from teenagers who could use them to learn highly valuable skills. There is wifi on every corner, but only the elite use it. What a shame.
That's all the taxes I can think of. I didn't get into a lot of details, since I am not an accountant, but it gives you an idea of the issues you have to deal with between two countries. It takes a little bit of the romance out of traveling abroad. It requires organization, patience, and tenacity.

This post was written, in part, for where Julia writes about her expat adventures, as well as on this blog. You can follow her in both places.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

How I Deal With Thyroid-induced Depression

With our family histories of mental illness, I think Rob and I are both secretly afraid that one of us is going to crack up some day. Hence, the worried expression on his face when I wake up in tears. Literally. Coming out of the fog of sleep, there is a weight pushing down on my chest, making me feel acutely, profoundly, sad.

He asks me what's wrong. I don't know. He asks if it's something he did... No. He asks if I had a bad dream... No. He asks if something has happened... No. It's not rational. I've experienced a rational grief before when my father died. I know when it's justified. This time it's not. It feels like someone has died, but nothing serious has changed in my life.

If you have read my blog before, perhaps you know that I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's disease, which makes my thyroid under-function. This depression happens occasionally, I believe, due to hormonal fluctuations, despite the medication I take working fine most of the time.

And so the way I deal with it is this: I think of the depression as something separate from me. It's not me; it's a symptom. I deal with it the same way I deal with a bad cold. When a virus hits you, you do what you can to get through it. I'm sad for a day, or a few. I let myself be sad. I cry at sappy commercials, feel pessimistic about the world, feel lonely, turn off the chat clients, and unplug the phone (and I'm usually more productive at work- like a cold, it's not debilitating, just annoying).

Then, over a few days, I gradually begin to feel better. I giggle at something. I put on a dress and make-up. I clean something, want to go out, and at some point it dawns on me that the dark cloud has passed, much the same way you realize after a cold you are not coughing or blowing your nose anymore.

Depression is really not as big of a deal as commercials for anti-depressants make it out to be. If it went on for months with no end in sight, then it would be a problem. But temporary mild or even moderate depression is nothing to be afraid or ashamed of. It's not "crazy." It's just part of life. If it weren't for depression, we wouldn't have half of the great poetry that exists in the world, or Russian novels.

I think there is too much pressure on us to be in a good mood all the time. Where does this pressure come from? Is it an American thing? I don't know, but it's just not life. Embrace your melancholia. It makes the happy times that much more enjoyable.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Life By Default

Coming back to the U.S. for a while has been a nice break from struggling with a different language and culture. But after being away, it has also given me some perspective on the culture I grew up with.

In this economic downturn, a lot of people are struggling with houses they can no longer afford, keeping up with car payments, the cost of children, etc. You can blame it on bad decisions, causing people to live beyond their means (as conservatives do). Or you can blame it on the evil corporate empire taking advantage of people in a big marketing machine (as liberals do). But I think it's a much more complicated intertwining of both. For a long time, my generation (X) in the United States has had it very easy. Unless you were a complete moron, you could land a job doing SOMETHING and get by. The economic situation was so good, you could major in philosophy, backpack through Europe, start a career late and still land on your feet. This has made us lazy about making decisions, and so a lot of people live life by default.

What is life by default? It's doing what everyone else does or what the great public relations and advertising machine tells you to do without thinking about whether it really fits the context of your life. It's having a huge white wedding because you dreamt of it since a child even though it will start your marriage in debt. It's getting into a mortgage that costs 40% of your income every month because the bank said you could "afford" it. It's getting saddled with a new car payment because you are too embarrassed to drive a clunker to the office. For a long time these "non-decision decisions," or default decisions didn't really matter, because even though you made major economic mistakes, you could sell your house at a profit, change jobs for a 20% raise, or cash in some stock options to make up for it. Not any more. I think for the first time in a long time, my generation has to economically grow up. The fantasy is over, kids.

I've made my share of "default" mistakes. I have a student loan hanging over my head that some "counselor" in a financial aid office stamped me through with a ten-minute decision that has stayed with me for over ten years. But I've tried to make my decisions with increasing deliberation as I have gotten older. When I asked myself why I wanted to have children in my twenties, the answer "because I always thought I would" was not good enough. It had to fit what was going on in the immediate context of my life. I wanted a lot of things as a little girl--to be a princess or a ballerina--but that doesn't fit whom I have become. I have responsibilities to a spouse whose feelings I need to respect, I have health issues I never could have anticipated, I have increasing awareness of my capacity to handle new burdens, whether financial or otherwise. Any decision has to fit who I am now, not who I was or who I want others to see me as.

It's O.K. to take the bus. It's O.K. to live in a trailer, not own a TV, get a job wherever you can to make ends meet, reconsider your political views, cut your hair short, change religions, change careers, have children, decide NOT to have children, as long as it's deliberate. As long as it fits. As long as it is YOU.

The next time I find myself being manipulated into something that doesn't feel right, whether it's pressure from a sales person to buy something I can't afford, or pressure from people to "keep up with the Joneses," I'm going to tell whoever it is to fuck off. No more decisions by default. That's my new mantra. When anyone asks why I have made a decision, I have an answer. That way, if my life takes a tumble, at least I know I have been true to myself.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Tour de Maine: final Thoughts

It's been a few days since we have been back, and I've done a lot of resting and recuperating from the bicycle tour. I've had some time to think back about it, and organize my thoughts:

The Challenges:

  1. Bike handling. My balance is terrible, and it definitely hampered my progress. I need to go downhill slowly, and I get nervous on dirt and rocky roads. I have never done much cycling, however, so this should improve with more time on the bike.
  2. Health. I had two health challenges: My thyroid, which made me a little emotional and tired, and my hands, of which I think I managed to injure the tendons a bit. My thyroid made me slightly moody which caused me to be depressed some mornings, and took some enjoyment out of the trip. I think this was because I'm not used to prolonged effort day after day. Next time, I think I may need to increase my meds just a touch- I will talk to a doctor about it. The injury to my hands made me incapable of performing a lot of tasks involved with packing, setting up the tent, etc. I think if my hands had held up I would have a better sense of efficacy and not felt so useless. This can be solved by adjusting my handlebars, and loosening my grip as I get more comfortable on the bike.
  3. Difference in fitness: Rob is much more fit than I am, so the pace of the tour was a compromise; he had to slow down for me, and I had to push against my limits. He carried most of the weight which served to mitigate this somewhat, but I think he would enjoy a tour with someone who can ride 50-80 miles a day.
The good stuff:

  1. The feeling of self-sufficiency. There is something very rewarding knowing that you can pack up and head out wherever you want, carrying everything you need with you. Even with all my problems, I felt so proud when people asked, "You are carrying everything on your bikes?" and said they had always wanted to do it. We came across a group tour with riders that carried nothing but fanny packs and had all their stuff in a van that rode behind them, and I have to admit I felt a little smug.
  2. The connection with place. Getting to know a place by bicycle is very different than by car- you don't have the barrier between you and the world. You can smell the fields, read the hand-made signs outside people's driveways, and feel the undulations of the land. I feel like I know the Maine coast better than if I had driven it in a car.
  3. The people we met. Our bikes were an easy topic of conversation for people who were interested, and I have to say, that people who are interested in bike touring are pretty cool. We had some really nice conversations with really nice people. It made me feel optimistic about humanity.
The future:

Will I tour again in the future? Definitely. What we might do differently next time:
  1. Different handlebars. My hands are still not healed.
  2. I need to work on my bike handling skills. It is still hard for me to look behind me or take a drink on the bike without losing my balance.
  3. Take less stuff. I had too many clothes, and we didn't use our stove after we realized we were close to delis with warm food, even at our campsites.
  4. Up my thyroid meds. Don't want to be so moody.
  5. Pay more attention (via map or GPS) to the terrain. 30 miles with hills is as difficult (or more) as 50 miles of flats.
  6. Keep stuff in dedicated bags. WE ended up doing this by the end of the trip, but we spent a lot of time in the beginning of the trip just looking for stuff.
Overall, I'm proud that we survived. It was a big leap for someone who hadn't done much cycling before, and Rob had a lot of patience with me. On balance, the sense of self-sufficiency and adventure outweigh the challenges. After I recover a bit, I'm ready for more. Patagonia, here we come!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

What to Do About My Drinking

I'm going back to Buenos Aires in three and a half weeks, and on my mind is how I am going to stay healthy when I get back. I am going to try and stay active, and eat a paleo-ish type diet.

One question I still haven't completely come to a decision on is what to do about drinking. Here in the U.S., I drink moderately by most standards. I have a hangover usually twice a year or so, on New Year's Day and the day after my birthday. I have wine or cocktails two or three times a week, and don't have more than three drinks usually. Two drinks is probably average.

When I was in Buenos Aires, I drank more than that. I couldn't give an average per day or week, but I was hung over a lot more than twice in a year. There are several reasons that drinking is easier there:
  • It's cheap. If you earn dollars, alcohol is very inexpensive. You can get a good bottle of Malbec for about $5 U.S. You can get a liter of beer for $2.
  • It's easily available. The grocery store is 50 yards from my front door. Two of the most popular bars for tourists and expats are within two blocks. Some stores deliver.
  • It's the center of social activities: Social gatherings are almost always in bars, and at parties, I am given a filled wine glass as soon as I walk in the door.
  • I don't have to drive. After dinner, I only have to be coherent enough to give a taxi driver my address, and I'm home.
  • I have more leisure time. Because I have domestic help, my life is centered around work and play. When work is over, it's over, and I have more time to enjoy myself.
There are a lot of expats over 40 who develop red noses and drink in the early afternoon. Bars are full of them. I know several people whom I think are on the edge of drinking dangerously, and one who has a definite problem. I don't want to be one of them. I don't think I have to quit drinking altogether. But I need to monitor myself.

So the question is: how do I maintain moderation while surrounded by excess? Give myself rules? Two drink max? No alcohol at home?

How do you handle moderation?

This post was written, in part, for where Julia writes about her expat adventures, as well as on this blog. You can follow her in both places.

Tour de Maine: The End

Well, we did it! I'm back at Mom's house safe and sound. I feel quite lucky to have air conditioning, cable TV, and a nice bed.

We rode from Wiscasset to Freeport, and stayed at a campsite for two nights at the Desert of Maine. The Desert is this weird sand dune in the middle of the forest where they have a cheesy little museum and give guided tours.

On Wednesday, we rode into Freeport, about three miles from the campsite and did a little shopping and site seeing. The biggest attraction in Freeport is the L.L. Bean "campus":

It's a Mecca of outdoor activities. They have a whole building dedicated to fishing and hunting, another building dedicated to bikes and kayaking, etc. It's HUGE. They have created it as not just a store, but a destination, where they do concerts in the park. It seems a little weird to me to build an "experience"around a product, but whatever. (I bought a pair of shorts).

The reason I had to buy some stuff was that we finally left some stuff behind somewhere. With packing and unpacking almost every day, keeping track of our stuff was no small task. We finally left a compression bag of cycling clothes behind somewhere. Disappointing, but not a big deal.

Overall, I think the trip was a little more challenging than I thought- not physically, but psychologically. I was out of my element, and it is difficult to persevere in something you are not competent in. But I'm glad to have done it, and I'm sure after some time, I will do another one.

I'll have some final thoughts about the whole thing a little late after reflection, but for now, resting and catching up.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Tour De Maine: What Day Is It?

On Saturday we were still camped at Camden Hills State Park, and that night it rained. And rained until midnight. And huge gusts of wind from another hurricane blew until about 3AM. But I have to say our Hilleberg tent is friggin' awesome. You could use this thing at the South Pole. I have to admit I was a little uneasy and had a hard time sleeping with the noise, but we were warm and dry.

On Sunday we only rode about 20 miles and stayed at Moody's Diner & Motel. This place is great in a weird, rustic, old-timey kind of way. The motel consists of little cabins that have had running water and electricity put in them, and the diner is full of locals that enjoy cheap and good eats. The place is still family-run.

We are getting pretty close to Portland and we don't want to be too early, so today we stopped in Wiscasset, which is another in a long line of charming little coastal towns. We are in another little hotel that is run by a woman who runs back and forth between the office and the Chinese restaurant in front.

My body is holding up pretty well, except for my hands, which are still a little worse for wear. I'm not going to return to CA any lighter, being too tempted by lobster rolls, fried fisherman's dinners, and whoopie pies. A whoopie pie is two chocolate cake-type cookies with a frosting between them:

Tomorrow we are off to Freeport, I think, where we might spend two days before riding to Portland. Southward ho!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Tour de Maine: The difference Between Fearless and Courageous

I'm not fearless. I'm afraid of a lot of things. I'm afraid of going downhill too fast, of riding too far on the right side of the road, getting off balance with loaded panniers. But one doesn't have to be fearless to have courage; you just have to face your fears. I'm giving myself credit for being courageous enough to ride on despite my fears. It's been worth it.

After the hostel, we rode and camped on Mount Desert Island the next two days. The weather and scenery were great. I had a problem with my brakes, so we spent one day walking around Southwest Harbor while the nice guys at the bike shop fixed them. They adjusted my gears a bit as well.

On Wednesday, we rode off the island 30 miles and got a hotel room in Ellsworth. Did all our laundry, took long showers, etc. The hotel was a bit depressing. A lot of people with not much going on in their lives. Ellsworth is a place to get to other places.

On Thursday we rode 40 miles to Searsport and found a great private campsite next to the water. 40 miles was tough. With our bikes loaded, we do an average of 10 miles per hour, so it took us four hours riding time. The campsite had hot showers and laundry, however, which made us much more comfortable.

Yesterday we rode about 25 miles to Camden. After the hard day the day before, we were pretty tired. We knew there was a storm coming, so we rode into town for something to eat, bought some food and a couple of books, and hunkered down for the night in the tent at the state park. The rain started at about 3:30 in the AM, and still pours as I write at 1:30 PM the next day.

The tent held up fantastically, and we were warm and dry all night; but the thought of spending a whole day in the tent was too much, so we took a taxi in to town for breakfast, and are now at the public library catching up with the world.

My bike handling is getting much better. I still need to go downhill slowly so that I don't get off-balance. Rob usually ends up way ahead of me going downhill since he is carrying most of the load, and I catch up going uphill. We've each had our moments of getting frustrated at ourselves and each other, but we've had a lot of laughs as well. I'm glad to have a day off of riding, and I think Rob is, too. The last two days were tough.

Mainers are friendly, taciturn, and sporty. Lots of boots and ball caps. I don't see a lot of women dolled up unless they are rich. People here are tough. You have to be to survive the winters. The land and the weather are very important. People live on the lobster, blueberry, and forest industries. They are laid back as well. We haven't been honked at once. People in cars just slow down and calmly drive around us.

I hope the rain will stop soon. One more night at the state park, and tomorrow we keep heading south.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tour De Maine: The Blueberry Adventure Day 3

It rained all night lst night. Good thing we were in the hostel. Hostels are weird places. Rob stayed up talking to someone really interesting, but he said the funniest quote was, "Wait! I haven't shown you all my knives yet!"

The day started not so well. We dropped off the rental car and started back to the island on our bikes fully loaded, but I was not very good at keeping my bike balanced. I think my bags were unevenly packed, and my front end would waver as I went downhill. So I got all panicky and didn't have a very good time. I felt a bit discouraged, the way I felt when I first started riding and found that bike handling is difficult for me. After we got to camp and set up, we rode a little without the panniers, which went a little better.

Our campsite is just off a fjord- I can't recall the name just now- but the view from the waterline is gorgeous. We went out onto the dock at the end of the day and just "wasted time" in the sun with our feet in the water, surrounded by puffy clouds and a pine-lined shore. It made the day more bearable, and despite thinking that bicycle touring might be a failure, I feel like I am able to persevere tomorrow.

Right now we just finished eating a dinner of canned chili, and Rob is building a fire. There is an open wireless network, so we are checking our email and the news of the day a bit before we wind down and go to sleep.

Tomorrow will be better. The only thing I regret right now is forgetting to pack soap. :(

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Tour De Maine: The Blueberry Adventure Day 2

The shack where Rob used to work as a teenager

Portland to Bar Harbor (Bah-ha-bah)

Today we took the rental car and drove up to Bar Harbor. On the way, we stopped at Bucksport and Rob reminisced about some of his childhood memories. Just outside the town we stopped at the shack where he used to work as a teenager cutting up frozen chickens and deep frying seafood for a little over $2.00 an hour.

The drive was gorgeous and relaxing- everyone drives so slowly there is nothing to get stressed out about- and we spent the day looking at trees and water.

We continued up to Bar Harbor, and walked around the little town. We thought the weather would be terrible due to the hurricane off the coast, but it was beautiful. However, there were some very high waves in the afternoon that swept some people into the ocean, which was the talk of Bar Harbor today everywhere we went. We had a lobster dinner (of course) and are staying the night in the Bar Harbor Hostel. As I speak, the rain just started, so it's a good thing we are spending the night inside. We thought we would use the tent platforms behind the hostel, but they are too small for our tent, so perhaps that was fortuitous.

The hostel suits our needs- it's halfway between "roughing it" and staying in a hotel. We are not the oldest ones here, as we feared. There is a couple in their 30's (perhaps we are older than them, but I'm not sure) and there is only one weird guy who seems off-kilter. The rest of the guests are travelers from all over the globe in their 20's. The Swiss girls are getting flirted with.

We thought we would spend four nights in Bar Harbor before moving on, but the town was so crowded and touristy, we are anxious to get on the bikes and into nature, so tomorrow we will bike back onto the island from returning the rental car and go to a campsite, weather permitting. If it's pouring down rain tomorrow, our plans might change.

So tonight maybe we will venture out for a nightcap and try to get a good night's sleep in separate dorms. Then onward into the wilderness.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Tour de Maine: The Blueberry Adventure Day 1

The first thing I said as I saw the Maine countryside through the window of the plane was, "It's full of trees!" I've never seen so many trees, but the lush surroundings come with a price: humidity. It's humid, bit not hot enough to be too uncomfortable, about 85 degrees. The hurricane is off the coast a little further south, but we didn't see any sign of it today. It was lovely.

From the airport, we dropped of our wheels at a bike shop to be trued (straightened and the spokes adjusted) and checked into the hotel. The bike shop called us and said they were done earlier than we thought, so I drove back to pick them up. And got lost. I found the bike shop all right, but it took me about an hour to get back to the hotel. The roads in this town are crazy! Half of them don't have street signs! I even stopped and asked for directions and still was completely clueless.The bright side is I got to see a lot of Portland, which is an old, quaint, hip, laid back town. We didn't think we needed a GPS on this trip, but now I'm reconsidering.

We went out to dinner at a French restaurant called Evangeline-- the last nice dinner we will have for a couple of weeks. We had duck prepared in a duck press. If you have never heard of it, google it. Prettty bizarre. Of course, we took video, so we will post it soon. Our busboy was from Sudan and this was his last night working. He's starting at the University of Maine on the 28th to study medicine.

So far, no big problems. The bikes got through the flight all right, and seem to be in working order. Rob put them together while I was driving around lost. We will know more when we start riding.

Tomorrow, we drive to Bar Harbor and check into the hostel for the night. We won't start riding in earnest until Monday. Rob spent a lot of his childhood in Bar Harbor, so it should be nostalgic for him.

Now, for a good night's sleep.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Maine Tour: Countdown

We leave tomorrow evening for Maine, where we will be bicycle touring for two weeks. We fly into Portland, drive up to Bar Harbor, stay there for four days, and then bike back to Portland. I think preparations are going well:

  • Fitness: when we were visiting my brother, we took a 3-hour ride and did 40 miles on the flats, so I feel pretty good about that. The third hour was tough on my arms, neck, and back, but my legs were fine. Yesterday we did a 70-minute ride in the hills that took 90 minutes when I first started training, so I am definitely stronger. There should be some hills on our route, but I'm not sure how many or how steep they will be. I think CA hills should prepare me for just about anything, though. Rob's fitness is not a problem. He can blow by me up hills with his bike loaded with gear. I'm the slow link.

  • Bike Gear: We have broken down and put the bikes back together (they are Ritchie Breakaway frames), and everything has been fine. We did a one-night camping trip at the beach and our tent worked fine as well. My gears are slipping a little bit, so we need to adjust that. We will get the wheels trued in Portland before we drive to Bar Harbor.

  • Weather: I need to buy a couple of warm, thin layers for the cold mornings and we need some rain jackets for showers. We already have rain protectors to go on the outside of our panniers, and Rob is buying a dry bag for our electronics, so we should be able to handle a few showers. What we can't ride in, however, is the HURRICANE that is expected to blow by when we get there! The hurricane looks like it might blow through while we are in Bar Harbor though, so the worst case is that we have to hunker down for a couple of days and read instead of cycling around the island. At least I hope that is the worst scenario- here is the projected path:
It should make things a little more unpredictable, so we'll see what happens.

  • Electronic Gear: We will have a little netbook so we can check email, download maps, etc. We will also have a camera and a Flip video camera, so I hope to update pictures either during the trip or shortly afterwards. It would be nice if I can blog day by day.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Digital Guidebook: Telecommuting Challenges

I have a new post on the Digital Guidebook about the challenge of over-reaching while telecommuting.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Personality and Love

I've been thinking a lot about personality lately. Rob and I have totally different personalities: He is high-strung, impatient, and passionate. I am mellow, slow-but-steady, and shy. This leads to fights sometimes, but they don't matter that much. They usually have to do with me being too timid to send back a dish I don't like at a restaurant, or his spouting off his political opinions at inappropriate times. We are together a lot- we both work from home, and we are going bike touring together- so these little flare-ups happen quite a bit.

But one's personality is quite separate from their values, and these Rob and I are totally aligned on. All the major decisions in our lives have been made together, harmoniously, from moving to Argentina to choosing bicycle touring as a hobby to keep us fit. Keeping this perspective helps me through the times when I get mad at him- he might talk too much or eat what I had saved for myself in the fridge, but he also has offered to live with my mother when she is too frail to take care of herself.

Personality has little to do with friendships, either. Often, I will make friends with someone new because their personality is charming and bubbly (I am shy, so making friends with another shy person doesn't happen as often). But one's personality has little to do with whether we become close friends or not. Choosing friends has more to do with values. A bubbly charming person who thinks that lying or stealing is acceptable is not going to be my close friend. There are people whom I enjoy having lunch with, but lose respect for when I find out they believe in a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world (seriously, this has happened).

I was very saddened when an acquaintance going through a divorce told me that she loved her husband, but he was "too critical" all the time. Granted, there might be more to the relationship than I will ever know, but I hope she is not tearing apart her life for a personality conflict.

Too often we admire those who "get along with people." We hold this up in school and in corporate life. But getting along with people is really as superficial as whether someone is well-groomed. It matters, but less than we think. It's important to see past the personality to the real person- and this has to do with what one values, the decisions based on those values, and the actions based on the decisions.

So the next time Rob annoys me by yelling at the AM radio station or makes me cringe by asking sensitive questions at a dinner party, I remember that he has also encouraged me to quit my job if I want to write full-time, helped lift my father from the bed to the toilet when he was ill, and just finished a road trip with my mother in the back seat to visit my family.

That's Love.


Mom, Rob, and I are staying at the Stockton Hilton while visiting my brother and family. The Hilton is one of the better hotels in town, and we splurged a little on the hotel because we drove all the way up here and didn't buy any plane tickets.

So far the hotel has been great, with the exception of one night.

There was a wedding the night before last, and unfortunately, the hotel has one of those designs where rooms look out onto an open courtyard. The room with the wedding reception also opens into the courtyard, so we could hear the music all night. I don't really care too much- it's a wedding after all. I'm not going to complain about someone's big day. Turn the TV up and stay in the room- normally.

But. There was also as softball tournament somewhere close by, and some of the players were staying down the hall from us. Twenty-somethings, getting drunk after the game and ordering pizza. They were also hanging out in the hallway and looking over the balcony at the wedding reception. I was in my room when this happened, but apparently, they eventually made some rude remarks to the wedding party.

I came out of my room when I heard some wedding guests yelling at the softball dorks about being insulted by racial comments and threatening to come upstairs and start a fight. To cut a long story short, police came, the jocks moved to the bar across the street, so did some of the wedding guests, police came again, then the police came a third time and escorted the wedding party out of the hotel after the reception (Can you imagine this happening at your wedding?).

Some of the wedding guests were pretty drunk and rowdy I guess, but I suppose I give them a little slack since they were provoked. They were all pretty young as well, probably all in their twenties.

Here is what really bothers me: Who gets drunk and has the nerve to make nasty comments to people at a wedding? Comments that provoke violence (or the threat of)? RACIAL comments?

Young testosterone-filled binge-drinkers who apparently have no sense of common decency. This is not the first time I have seen jerks like these, and I'm sure it's not the last. I haven't seen any in Argentina, except for American or European tourists. These guys are scary. They are big, strong, drunk, and dumb. A toxic combination.

Part of it is a group mentality, like a pack of wild dogs. I bet if I were to meet any one of them individually, they wouldn't seem so bad. But put them together, and they all convince each other that what they are doing is macho. This is how rapes happen.

Where did these guys come from? How did they turn out this way? Who raised them, and how did they devolve into the cretins they are?

Very, very disturbing.

Eating Healthy in Buenos Aires

I've been back in the States now for three months, and my health is definitely improving from all the cycling I've been doing, but my eating has not been as healthy as it could be. I'm not putting myself under a lot of pressure about it, but I'm definitely trying to plan how I can eat better when I get back to Buenos Aires.

I try to stick to a paleo-ish diet at least 80% of the time (No grains, little dairy- a diet of mostly lean meats, fish, eggs, fruits, and vegetables). Lately, this percent has probably gone down to about 50 or 60%, because my family eats different things and it's hard not to eat grains when they are in the house.

But it is possible to eat a paleo diet in Argentina, especially in the city, because meat markets and vegetable markets are all within walking distance. I just have to take the time to walk to them. And now that my Spanish is good enough to actually speak with the vendors, it should
be easier. Here is a list of things I am going to shoot for, and things I'm going to try to avoid:

The good list:

Image via

1. Meat, of course. Argentine beef is grass-fed, so it is pretty lean. I eat a lot of red meat and my digestion is fine, and my cholesterol is fine. I can order a variety of meat at a parrilla along with a salad and skip the bread. It is easy to get organ meats in Argentina, as well. I love the sweetbreads.

2. Fish- Argentines don't eat a lot of fish, typically, but there are fish markets, and I need to learn a few more types of fish in Spanish so I can pick out some good fish for a quick dinner. Most restaurants have at least one fish on the menu, typically merluza.

3. Salads- when eating out at a cafe, salads usually consist of a list of vegetables you can have cut up and put in a bowl, served with oil and vinegar. You choose from a list- beets, carrots, and lettuce, for example. I definitely need to take advantage of this more often.

4. Nuts. I don't eat enough of these. It's a great way to get some good fat, and make me feel full. They are generally pretty pricey compared to other things in the grocery store, so I tend to avoid them.

The bad list:


1. Pizza. Cheese and bread do not a healthy person make. Carbs, + fat + salt. Avoid when possible.

2. Empanadas. Hard to avoid. They are everywhere, cheap, and fast. Meat and/or cheese filled savory pastry. Some are fried. Ham and cheese is popular.

3. Pasta. There are a lot of home-made pasta shops, so I have to try hard to avoid these as well. Once in a while I will splurge on a special occasion. But a pasta meal makes me feel bad the next day if I am not used to eating it.

4. Pastries. Croissants, facturas, etc. In shop windows everywhere, and popular for breakfast. Not as evil as Krispy-Kreme, but almost.

The once-in-a-while list:

Image of a picada via

1. Tarts. These are very popular, and although they are made with a dough crust on the bottom, they are usually filled with eggs, and various different kind of vegetables. Squash is popular, as is acelga, which I believe is similar to chard.

2. Milanesa Napolitana. Breaded chicken or beef cutlet, fried, and topped with tomato sauce and cheese. There is usually too much cheese to be healthy, but it is so good, I gotta have it once in a while. And other than the breading, there is not much grain. They usually use safflower oil for frying.

3. Picada. This is a platter of meats and cheeses for snacking. Many come with nuts as well. I try to avoid meats that are processed with salt and nitrates. But it is an adequate choice once in a while, when shopping or walking around on a hot day, with a beer. Since there is so much fat, they are very filling, so a little goes a long way.

4. Yogurt. Argentines love their yogurt, but it's hard to get natural yogurt that doesn't have a lot of stuff added. I can find sugar-free yogurt, but that has aspartame, which I don't think is great on a daily basis. But it helps the digestion, and you can't buy the digestive supplements in pill form like you can in the states.

Like I said, I'm not a diet nazi, but I try to keep myself within the 80% range of a paleo-type diet. I do have ice cream occasionally, or pasta. But the healthier I eat, the worse I feel when I go off the pattern, so I can keep it pretty steady when I am on a roll. With a little will-power, it is possible to eat paleo in Argentina.

This post was written, in part, for where Julia writes about her expat adventures, as well as on this blog. You can follow her in both places.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bike Fitness

It's my fourth week training for bicycle touring, and my fitness is definitely improving: both my cardiovascular fitness, and my muscle strength. Before I started this "program" I wondered whether I could get a Crossfit-style workout on the bike: variation, big movements, intensity. the answer in general, is yes. Especially if you live in the hills.
  • Riding up hills gives intervals of very high intensity with periods of rest. If I push a big enough gear, it's a great leg workout. It's as intense as running sprints.
  • I work all the big muscle groups in the lower half of my body. Even when trying to keep a high pace on the flats, I work my abs and lower back in order to keep stabilized.
  • You can do intervals on the flats if you push the pace high enough.
  • We change our route every time we go out so we will get a different type of workout: Long and flat one day, hilly and short another, working skills in the park another.
  • We take days off in between where we do nothing.
Of course, the obvious muscle group that is missing is arms. Eventually, I will work in some arm exercises after a ride when I can handle it. But you'd be surprised at the level of arm strength needed for descending, so the arms don't stay completely unused.

Bicycle touring does not equal fitness necessarily. One can ride from town to town at a leisurely pace, and drink a bottle of wine and a huge pasta dinner each night. But if you keep the intensity up, vary the route so that you work in some hills, and watch the diet, it can be a great way to keep in shape, and see some of the country besides.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Being Healthy vs. Being Thin

It's now the third week of training for bicycle touring, and I am already feeling a lot fitter. The first two weeks were very difficult to get through- I felt tired all the time. But now I am recovering faster, and starting to feel a boost in my energy. My bike handling skills have gotten better as well--I am clipping in and out, climbing quite well (relatively), and rode three hours out to the beach with panniers (of course Rob takes the heavy stuff on his bike). Yay, me!

I haven't lost much weight, though. I thought I would be down about five pounds at this point. I was discouraged at first, but it has made me reflect on why I am doing this in the first place, and how important the weight loss is.

First of all, you have to ride intensely to get fit and start losing weight. In order to ride intensely, you have to build up your capacity to do so. Noodling around at 10 miles an hour isn't going to help you burn calories. So I need a few weeks to be fit enough to handle the intensity that will lead to weight loss.

Second, and more importantly, I need to keep in mind that being thin and being healthy are not the same thing. I want to be healthy. That means have a healthy heart, good lungs, some strength, and good energy throughout the day. I can be 15 lb.s overweight and have all this.

Losing 15lbs. is vanity. I don't want dimply thighs or a fat ass. I want clothes to look good on me. There is nothing wrong with this, it's just important to keep it in perspective. Judging one's health by weight alone is like judging the health of the economy by the stock market, and we all know how that goes. I've seen plenty of skinny people who drink too much, smoke too much, eat poorly, and have a high body fat percentage because they don't have any muscle. You can be skinny and unhealthy.

Of course I have some health issues that make staying thin a good idea, like type II diabetes in the family. But these health issues usually come at the border of obesity, and I am not there.

So I'm not discouraged by the scale. The weight loss will come. (My vanity cannot be shaken.) But more importantly, I have energy today! And after the months (years?) of suffering fatigue from being hypothyroid, this is heavenly. Dimply thighs or not.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Our New Adventure: Week 1

So Rob and I are preparing for some bicycle touring. Next to moving to another country, this has got to be one of the most challenging things I have ever done, because
  1. I am way out of shape.
  2. It's my first time ever riding a bike in any serious way. I don't even know how to shift or clip into the pedals.
  3. I'm clumsy. I haven't fallen over yet, but I will soon, I'm sure.
  4. I'm about 15 pounds overweight, which makes hills that much harder.
  5. I'm old. O.K., so I'm the same age as Lance Armstrong, but he's considered an old dog for cycling, and I have 1/1000th of his capacity.
It's been a week since I've had the bike, and I've been out every day on it. I've definitely had some "What was I thinking?" moments. The first day riding I flipped out going uphill when I had to stop and couldn't get started again, broke down crying because I was scared and panicked, and walked it down the hill. I've improved since then. I can get started on a hill now, even if I am a little clumsy about it. I've gotten used to shifting, but still have a little trouble clipping in. I'm not a very good climber, and get scared descending very fast. I haven't ridden with the panniers yet. I've been exhausted all week.

However, I've managed two hours solid in the saddle my first week, which is pretty good. I'm getting more comfortable riding with traffic, (although riding on empty country roads is what we aim for), and I can feel my body starting to adapt little by little.

We have an apartment booked in Bariloche for two months in the South American Summer, so I need to have the basic fitness to cycle daily in the Andes. I've looked at the pictures of the views from some of the rides, which as definitely kept me motivated. (That, and the hope that I will lose the extra 15 lbs.)

After I get past the "Oh my god, this is torture" phase, I can see the fun at the end of the tunnel. Rob and I can chat as we ride along, and enjoy the outdoors together. It will keep us healthy, and provide us with a way to see other parts of the world.

Nothing worth doing is ever easy. But this is definitely worth it.

This post was written, in part, for where Julia writes about her expat adventures, as well as on this blog. You can follow her in both places.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Four Biggest Things That Creep Me Out about the U.S.

I've been out of the country for a year and a half, with the exception of a couple of weeks last year. I expected to just slide right back into the culture here, like riding a bicycle with a big "Aaaaah." Not so. I feel uneasy. Whether the USA has changed or I have changed, I am not sure--probably a mixture of both.

I don't want to dwell on my existential crisis about not feeling at home in either country, but I do want to mention the biggest things that creep me out about the U.S. since I have been gone for a while.
  1. The obesity epidemic. Seriously. Yesterday I was in a coffee shop, and as I watched people walk by, I did not see one person who looked to be their ideal weight. A lot of people looked like they could shed 15 lbs. or so (including me), but there were a scary number of people that are going to (if they don't already) have serious health problems. The food portions everywhere are huge, and made of layers of carbs, fat, and salt, made to stimulate our pleasure centers. We are being manipulated into eating. If everyone were addicted to drugs there would be an outcry. But being "addicted" to eating seems to be O.K. Weird.
  2. The news. The majority of news on television is awful. It's emotional, sensationalistic, puts celebrity in front of serious issues, and just plain trashy. I'm sure a lot of Argentina news is the same way, but I don't understand enough Spanish to get it. If the food companies are manipulating our food cravings, the news stations are manipulating our emotions.
  3. The car culture. At least where I am, in the California suburbs, you have to drive to get anywhere. No corner shops or pubs where people run into each other. The only time neighbors get together is when there is a robbery or the old lady across the street died. We are all isolated from each other.
  4. Religiosity. I just spent a year and a half in a country that is 80% or so Roman Catholic, and no one mentioned God the whole time I've been there (almost-expat Americans did.) The truth is, most Argentines are religious in name only- it's a tradition more than a belief system. Religion is for weddings and funerals, Christmas and Easter, and the rest of the time, real life presides. I cannot believe the number of Americans that think the earth is 10,000 years old or younger, or believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. I know I am biased as an atheist, but I think even believers from other countries would be creeped out of they knew what most Evangelicals believe, and how serious they take it.
I still love the United States. The National Anthem makes me cry every time. But coming back after some time away has made me see it in a way I couldn't before. I feel a little more like a stranger.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Burgers and Sandwiches and Pies, Oh My!

This is a take-out menu from Marie Callendars. They don't put the calories on the sit-down menu. Check out the "The Works" Frisco burger: 1810 calories! That's a whole day's calories in one sandwich, and it doesn't include a drink or dessert. The pies are 500- 600 calories a piece. No onder half the people walking in were so big. Jeez.

Comparison of Legal/Illegal Activities between Argentina and the U.S.

I made a spreadsheet that compares what is legal/illegal in Argentina and the U.S. This is from my own general knowledge, so if you see mistakes, please leave a comment.

I would also be interested in things that are legal in one country and illegal in the other that I missed.

Link to spreadsheet

It's hard to make a generalization about either country by what each chooses to make legal/illegal, but I think the laws reflect the different religious roots. Argentina is largely Roman Catholic, and abortion is illegal, but the people generally have a "live-and-let-live" attitude to most people's personal lives. The protestant background of the U.S. generally is reflected in less restrictions on trade, but a more moralizing aspect to people's personal lives.

This post was written, in part, for where Julia writes about her expat adventures, as well as on this blog. You can follow her in both places.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Don't Worry, Argentina is Probably not Crying for You.....

Sc Stimulus
So it turns out the Sanford, the lost governor was is Buenos Aires. He was having an affair with a Porteña. I love this quote:

"I spent the past five days of my life crying in Argentina," he said, "so I could come back and cry here."
Plenty of men come to Argentina for the women. He's just the one that got caught. Great press for the city.

Link to story


This came in the mail to my brother's house a while ago, and he just forwarded it to me at my Mom's. It feels good to see the piece of paper.

Who is Circadia Anyway?

Jumping across the equator from winter to summer has been fantastic, but it has messed up my sleep rhythm a little bit. It is light out right now until well after 8PM, and the sun rises obscenely early.

I kept the little sleep mask that Delta gave me on the night flight over here, and I've been wearing it at night. It's helped my sleep pattern a lot. I'm very sensitive to light, and wearing the mask helps me to get to sleep faster and wake up when I want to in the morning.

I've used sleep masks before, but often-times the ones I have bought are uncomfortable because the elastic is too tight, and I stop wearing them.

A bonus: Rob can use his computer in bed without the light waking me up.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Blog Readers

I have a new post on my Digital Guidebook for newbies on Blog Readers. If you don't already use one, you might want to check it out.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Boys' Club

There was another presentation at a Flash conference recently that was highly inappropriate for the context. Wow.

From the Geek Girls Guide

Friday, June 12, 2009

Phone Solutions

This post was written, in part, for where Julia writes about her expat adventures, as well as on this blog. You can follow her in both places.

I'm in the U.S. for a little while, and while I am here, I'd like a cell phone to use. There are plenty of places that sell inexpensive phones with pre-paid plans. But I want:

  1. A Querty keyboard, so I can text message easily because I'm a total boob at texting on a regular keypad.
  2. A phone that I can unlock and has GSM quadband so I can pop in my Argentine prepaid phone card when I get back to Argentina.
That's it. I don't want email, Internet-- all that stuff. Just a phone. A phone that I can call and text with. And I want to take it to South America with me.

AT&T is the only place that has a pre-paid phone with a Querty keyboard, but you have to go to a third-party retailer to have it unlocked, which is risky. If they do it wrong, you freeze your phone and it's no good.

Solution: I bought an unlocked phone from It's a three-year-old Blackberry. I can't use all the data stuff, but I don't care, because I just want a cheap phone. I bought a SIMM card from AT&T, and I have a pay-as you-go phone. And I can pop in my Argentine SIMM card when I get to Argentina and have my Argentina # work. Plus, I have my Skype-in number forward to whichever phone I am using at the time.

The best part? It cost me about $80 dollars. Cheaper than the AT&T pay-as-you-go phone.

The 16:20 in the pic was an accident ;)

Sunday, May 31, 2009

I'm Watching You

Google Analytics lets me know how many people come to my blog, and from where. It's pretty handy. It also lets me know what keywords people used in Google to search for my blog. Here are yesterday's search terms:

Look at the last one. WTF? O.K., people, I *hope* you are looking for nude pictures of another Julia Evans. If not, stop it. You won't find any of me on the intertoobs. Holy mackerel. [Shivers and goes to get the bad taste out of her mouth.]

Saturday, May 30, 2009

My Experience with the Argentine Medical System

As you may know, I was diagnosed as hypothyroid, which means I have to consult with an endocrinologist, take meds every day, and go get my blood checked once every few months. I have done all this here in Buenos Aires, so I thought I would give a little summary of what the experience has been like.

Argentina has a national health system, which is free for its citizens. I have heard two things about this: 1) It's free for everybody and isn't that great, and 2) Don't use it if you can avoid it, especially the hospitals. They also have a private health system, which can be paid for with insurance, or by cash.

Since the cost is low enough for me, I pay cash. It's simple. No forms, no hassles, and you know how much everything costs. No one turns you down for anything. I get the tests I want. (Libertarian rant: Does anyone who is in favor of national health care consider that if health care is nationalized it will go the way of eduction--crappy? That seems to be the case here. The private system is superior.)

I got diagnosed with Hashimoto's when I went to an OB/GYN for a regular yearly exam. He asked me how I was feeling generally, and when I said fatigued, he sent me for some blood tests. He has a small office in a high-rise building run by just him and his secretary. I never wait more than two minutes past my appointment time. He never has more than one patient at a time in the waiting room. It's quiet, comfortable, and I pay around $200 pesos per consultation (about $55 bucks). This is pricey. He is very exclusive. His office is five blocks from my apartment. But he is wonderful, and he practiced for years in Chicago.

I go for the blood tests at a lab 1 1/2 blocks from my apartment, taken by a little old man who has been doing it for years. There is no one else in the lab. I am in and out in ten minutes. I pick up the blood tests MYSELF a couple days later. I bring them to the doctor. I think my thyroid tests cost me $50 pesos ($14 dollars).

This is a major difference here. With a few exceptions, I have picked up my lab results for a mammogram, thyroid ultrasound, and blood tests myself. I keep them myself. They are owned by me. It is a little more work on my part to get them and keep track of them, but I can take them to a different doctor if I want, or research the numbers myself online. My thyroid biopsy was done at a hospital, and they kept the results because it is the hospital where the endocrinologist practices.

My endocrinologist is a $20 peso taxi ride out to another neighborhood. She is excellent. Like the OB/GYN, she spends time talking to me, writing all my information down by hand on an index card. She speaks English (just got back from a conference in the U.S.) She charges $70 pesos per consultation (about $20 dollars). She gives me the change out of her pocket. She writes me a prescription for some medicine, and I go to the pharmacy down the block for it. I don't even have to show them the scrip. I just tell them what I want and they give me a box of bubble-wrapped capsules. $14 pesos (about $4 dollars-- granted, this medicine is cheap in the States, too.)

I need to go through the blood test/endo appointment thing about every three or four months, and go back to the OB/GYN each year.

So this is my experience-- good health care, low cost (at least for me. I know my financial situation here makes me very lucky), extremely efficient. I feel more in control of my health here than I did in the States.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

New Blog

I always get questions from non-technical types about what Twitter is, how does one follow more than a few blogs, how to search beyond Google, etc.

I have new blog that will be specifically about managing a digital life: from navigating social networks, to online tutoring, to simple life hacks. It's sort of an everyman's guide to managing a digital life.

The Digital Guidebook

Comments welcome.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

At Least You Have Your Health

I haven't been posting as much as I wanted to over the last few months, mostly due to health issues: I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, which means that my thyroid isn't producing the hormone it should. The result is that I get wicked bouts of mood swings and days that I am so fatigued I can't get out of bed for more than a few hours at a time. I thought I was just extremely lazy, or getting bouts of the flu.

The good news is, I've been taking meds for it, and feel my energy coming back. The mood swings are fewer and farther between, so I am not insane or driving Rob insane. I have had very positive experiences with the medical care here, which I might expand on in another post. The other good news, had a biopsy on the nodules on my thyroid, and there is no cancer. So. I've dived into a few new projects, so I will probably have more to blog about:

1) I'm getting paid to blog about expat issues for a site that wants to build a community around it, so I will definitely be blogging on a regular basis there, and here.

2) I'm taking singing classes. Fun, fun, fun. The teacher is Viviana Scarlassa, a tango singer. I recommend her highly. Enjoying myself. I like a singing teacher that starts classes with a medical diagram of the respiratory system.

3) I have a couple of book ideas. One is about my experience teaching for the B. Family for seven years as their private teacher, and the other is a book on managing digital information for the non-technical person.

Of course, I still have my regular work and Rob has a business project in the works. So I am glad to get the whole hormone thing sorted out.

It's so true that if you don't have your health, you don't have anything.