Month: November 2016

First impressions of Uruguay

We started our Uruguayan adventure in Colonia del Sacramento, a short ferry ride (50KM) from Buenos Aires, and a town that has strong Portuguese and Spanish roots having been under the rule of both (after being first ‘founded’ and claimed by the Portuguese, it has been occupied and conquested back and forth up until 1828, when it became part of Uruguay).

Highlights of Colonia include ruins of fortress walls and gates, a convent dating back to the 17th century, a lighthouse dating to 1857, and the Basilica of the Blessed Sacrament. Classic cars (some driving, some used as planters) and cobblestone roads surround the town center. Not surprisingly, the kids were not all that charmed by the crumbling buildings and cobblestone roads, but luckily we played some soccer in the square near the Basilica and happened to stay in a hotel with an outdoor pool and breakfast buffet so all was forgiven.

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A weekend and vacation spot for many Argentines given it’s proximity to Buenos Aires, it was not quite the ‘high season’ (summer) and we had much of the town to ourselves for a requisite self-guided tour in a golf cart (and you can probably imagine how that went). Playa Ferrando was a gorgeous, empty stretch of coast that we had to ourselves for part of a sunny morning before we departed for Montevideo.

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We traveled from Colonia to Montevideo by bus (and yes, we are a sight tromping through a bus station: 5 gringos, 3 kids, 12 bags +/- whatever extra bags of snacks or treasures we happen to be holding on a given day). The kids did great on the long-ish ride, enough so that an elderly Uruguayan gentleman offered us ‘felicitaciones’ (congratulations) on traveling with our children.

We spent a few days exploring Montevideo and started to form some of our initial impressions of Uruguay. It has been so interesting to see the comparisons the kids draw as we move from one place to another, and this time was no exception.

Some of Colin’s most prominent observations:

-People smoke less in Uruguay (all of the kids have been shocked at how many people smoke in Latin America)

-There is less dog poop (he’s right that even taking into account the population difference, people here are definitely way more responsible about this)

-Food tastes better than it did in Brazil (food here is more similar to Argentine food, and contains all of the boys’ favorites: meat, pizza, pasta)

-“I’m not hungry” (Food portions are HUGE here. We thought at first that things were expensive, but it turns out that most ‘portions’ easily serve at least 2 people

We’ve also noticed that Uruguayans are more similar to Brazilians in their tendency to STARE at things/people they are not used to seeing (ie, us), but they also are the opposite of both Brazilians and Argentines when it comes to driving behavior; we’ve had multiple drivers stop and either honk or flash their lights at us to tell us to cross which has come as quite a surprise after months of being used to the idea that pedestrians have no right of way.

Having been in a very busy neighborhood of Buenos Aires for the past month definitely influenced all of our perspectives, as the greatest difference we all noticed was the general lack of people we saw out and about in the different neighborhoods of the city. After sleeping in on a Saturday morning (our first in Montevideo) and enjoying another breakfast buffet, we learned quickly that everything closes up early on Saturdays (by 1pm), but we still have not figured out where everyone went once things were closed. (As far as we could tell, they were not at restaurants or bars…)

Regardless, we took advantage of empty & quiet streets to cover a ton of ground and walk through the commercial center (felt like midtown Manhattan with fewer people), the old downtown (ciudad vieja) and the port (more cobblestone streets, tourist markets).

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While in the Ciudad Vieja, we had the opportunity to see the inside of Teatro Solis, where Jim’s Grandfather Howard Mitchell conducted on more than one occasion during his many visits to Montevideo.

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We had heard various impressions of Argentines v. Uruguayans, or of Buenos Aires v. Montevideo, and one of them was that everything is just more mellow in Uruguay. We definitely concur with this impression: everything and everyone in Uruguay is quieter, ‘mas tranquilo,’ than anything we encountered in BA. While nice to have a change of pace, it has definitely been an adjustment so far.

Next up: travel out to the coast (Punta del Este and La Barra) and my personal memoir “I got out of cooking Thanksgiving dinner and all I had to do was move to South America.”

Love to all,

Hasta Pronto

 

 

Buenos Aires!

We arrived in Buenos Aires on October 17, and it’s almost already time for us to leave! We’ve been busy having fun finding our favorite spots and learning to live in true porteno style. (A porteno is the name for someone from Buenos Aires, because the Rio de la Plata passes right along the northeastern border of the city and there is a major shipping port)[The “n” in Porteno is supposed to have a tilde over it, but I cannot figure out how to make that happen here…] What’s interesting is that even though Buenos Aires is on a major river and is a port city, in daily life here you hardly see the water, and there is very little reference (in menus, culture, life in general) to the fact that the city is right on the water.

We have been living for the past (almost) month in a neighborhood called Palermo, which is the largest neighborhood (or “barrio”) in the city. The neighborhood reminds us of a combination of the West Village and Upper West Side in NYC, but with a lot more graffiti and dog poop. Apparently, despite the rules to the contrary, Portenos are not disciplined when it comes to curbing their “mascotas” (pets). When it comes to fashion, on the other hand, they take it very seriously. This is a major shopping district with boutique after boutique as far as the eye can see.

Even though Buenos Aires is a huge (Pop.=3MM) cosmopolitan capital city, people here operate at a different (slower) pace than any American city we’ve been to. While it has been tough to get accustomed to, we’ve really come to appreciate how much Argentines like to sit, and talk, and just hang out, in cafes, parks, plazas, pretty much anywhere. It’s not uncommon to pass a group of friends at an outdoor cafe or plaza with more than one empty coffee cup in front of each of them, or passing the mate’ (a type of tea from yerba mate) between them. It’s good to know ahead of time that most requests will take up to 20 minutes if your fellow travelers go from ‘not hungry’ to ‘starving’ in 5 minutes or less (which at least 3 of ours do…not naming names 😉 ), but it’s been a great reminder (and maybe aspiration for the future) that there is (a lot) more to life than rushing around on a schedule.

Similar to many of the big cities we’ve lived in or near, Buenos Aires has a huge green space called “Bosques de Palermo” (Palermo Forest) in which many portenos (and tourists) find space to walk, run, ride bikes, picnic, and drink mate’ with friends. It’s home to a beautiful rose garden, duck pond with paddle boats, bike rentals, restaurants, and ice cream carts. We spent many hours in the park, riding bikes, playing soccer, and we even packed and enjoyed a traditional-ish picnic complete with bread, cheese, meat, fruit, croissants and the national beer, Quilmes.

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One of Vaya Adventures’ great partner agencies Say Hueque is based here in Buenos Aires, and as a result, we’ve been introduced and treated to a number of wonderful experiences. Owned by Rafael Mayer, a great business partner and friend of Jim’s, we’ve been fortunate to attend a soccer game at the famous Bombonera stadium (home of Boca Juniors, team of Maradona, Gatti, and Tevez), enjoyed a true Argentine BBQ at Rafael’s home with his wife and two sons, attended a dinner event called The Argentine Experience, had an afternoon cafe tour of landmark-type cafes in the city, and were hosted at an Estancia called La Sofia that’s run by a retired professional polo player and his wife.

The Argentine Experience is ranked by the kids as being one of the best nights we’ve had on our trip. The night consisted of joining other travelers and tourists to prepare and eat traditional Argentine food.  We started with cocktails (and fresh raspberry/apple juice for the kids), made empanadas (and learned how the shape of an empanada corresponds to what filling is inside…we were wondering how they knew!), ate delicious steak (and learned how to order it how we like it), and made homemade alfajores (traditional dessert that consists of a cookie sandwich with dulce de leche filling, light dusting of coconut on outer edge, and the option to dip the entire thing in chocolate ganache). Each course was also accompanied by the appropriate Argentine wine…lots of delicious reds, and a bit of a hangover the next day as a result of some very generous pours.

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This is Colin with his first homemade empanada. This most traditional shape (half-moon) with the pinched edge is for “carne” (meat) and in Argentina, carne ALWAYS means beef.

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Cecelia’s fortune-cookie shaped empanada was a combination of tomatoes, cheese, and basil, called “caprese.” For this one, you follow similar steps for the carne version, only you do not pinch the edges and instead fold the outer points in toward each other to meet in the middle.

 

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After we made the “regular” empanadas, there was also a ‘creative empanada contest.’ Cecelia made a butterfly that our whole table thought should win (Jim made a squid attacking a sperm whale and I made a jellyfish) but alas, a fellow traveler from Australia won with a rose he had made (the details were impressive!) and he rubbed it in by presenting his girlfriend with the cooked rose much to his table’s delight (lots of oohs and aahhs) and our table’s (joking) questioning of the impartiality of the judging.

You can see in the pictures above that we also have little pictures of cows (vacas) near our plates that were to indicate how we liked to have our steak cooked. We learned that to order meat in Argentina and to get what you’re looking for, you need to use these phrases:

  1. Rare: Jugoso
  2. Medium rare: a punto jugoso
  3. Medium: a punto
  4. Well done (but why?): bien cocido

What was interesting to note, however, is that we while left feeling well-equipped to order meat in a restaurant after The Argentine Experience, we quickly came to realize that there are so many different types and cuts of meat (a typical “parrilla” or “mixed grill” could consist of 10 different types of sausage and steak) that it was anyone’s guess what was going to show up next.

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The above is a picture of the grill at Rafael’s house the night his family so graciously hosted us! All of these cuts and types of meats were grilled and served as some of the many courses of delicious food!

Thank goodness Jim, Colin, and Sean will try anything. I have made a habit of watching their reactions to make my own informed decisions about what to eat and have eaten quite well as a result. (Cecelia, ever the vegetarian, has eaten well on salad, bread, grilled vegetables, pizza, and vegetarian empanadas).

Even if you know what cut you’re ordering and you use these phrases, the meat can still come out very differently in different places. We haven’t eaten a ton of meat, but we have decided that the ‘right’ way for us to order is “a punto pero tambien jugoso” (“medium rare but also juicy”) One waiter wrote down A/P- which translated to “a punto menos.” It seemed to do the trick; the steak we enjoyed that night at La Carniceria (literal translation: the meatery) was perfectly cooked and delicious.

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The second pic (above) is of Jim’s appetizer (yes, before the steak arrived!) Ironically, the meatery also served the best vegetables we’ve probably ever eaten (fire-grilled cabbage, broccoli, zuchinni, and greens with peas and yogurt sauce).

Attending a soccer game at La Bombonera was another great highlight for us in Buenos Aires. La Bombonera (literal translation: bonbon or chocolate box) is the home stadium for Boca Juniors, one of the two teams that all futbol fans from Buenos Aires root for (the other team is “River Plate” and the two are intense rivals). The stadium’s capacity is only 49,000 and it’s constructed with a flat stand on one side of the field and 3 steep “tiers” around the rest of the stadium (hence the name) which results in very impressive (i.e. loud) acoustics. To avoid conflicts, only home fans are allowed at games (for both Boca Juniors and River Plate games) and as a result, the entire stadium is filled with home team fans and they sing and cheer the ENTIRE (90+ minute) game. The fans’ support is so impressive that the fans are often referred to as the “12th man” (with a regulation soccer team consisting of 11 players) and we were fortunate to attend on a day when Boca Juniors handily dismissed of their opponent Temperley, 4-0.

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Sean and Colin have joined up with a local soccer club founded by Claudio Marangoni, a retired professional soccer player who used to play for the Argentine national team, in addition to Boca Juniors and other Argentine and English soccer clubs. They’ve been playing soccer three times a week with boys their own ages, and we’ve been super impressed with the level of play. As the salesperson at the sporting goods store told us: in Argentina, the order of importance of sports goes like this: “1. futbol, 2. futbol, 3. futbol, 4. basketball, 5. tennis,” and the moves we’ve seen from some very young players supports this description. We have also been impressed to see both boys dive right in, despite not understanding  the majority of what their coaches or teammates are saying, and we’re happy to report that they have also represented well for Los Estados Unidos (the United States) (not to mention that they’re picking up key Spanish phrases out on the field). Each of them scored some great goals, made some friends, and Sean even brought home the coveted “copa” one practice which is awarded to one player each practice for exceptional effort and play.

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One of the best parts of the soccer practices has been that the kids of all ages imitate their professional heroes down to the celebrations after each goal. In Colin’s age group, the entire team unites in a big hug, jumps up and down, and yells “golazo” just like the sportscasters on TV.

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After our second week of practice, Claudio (with us pictured above) struck up a conversation with me while I was waiting to pick up the boys. After a sentence or two to find out who I was and where we were from, he said “Oh, Los Americanos” (Oh, the Americans). We supposed he had heard from his coaches that we were in town and playing, and he was extremely friendly and welcoming. Escuela Marangoni de futbol was easily the boys’ highlight of our time here in BA and Sean has already asked where we’re going to sign them up to play in Uruguay (our next stop).

Our cafe tour in Buenos Aires was also very popular with the kids. We got to spend a sunny afternoon visiting some legendary cafes on Avenida Corrientes with a wonderful guide from Say Hueque, Vanessa, who regularly works with Vaya Adventures’ clients when they’re in town. We ate a very small lunch in anticipation of the treats that awaited us when the tour was scheduled to start at 2PM on a recent afternoon. We started at Pizzeria Guerrin, founded in 1932, which is regarded as one of the best pizzerias in the city (a major accolade given how much pizza and Italian food you find here, with Argentina’s long history of Italian immigration and the major Italian population). Immediately following our family-style sharing of the house favorites, we crossed the street and walked less than half a block to see Los Immortales (we didn’t eat here, because there are only whole pizzas instead of pizza por porcion) (slices) and then we were on to “El Americano” where we did sample both the pizza and an empanada, since their empanadas are widely regarded as the best in the city. (Kind of a big deal when every corner restaurant and bakery serves empanadas by the dozen, and they’re considered the national specialty).

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Above: standing room only in the front room of Guerrin; there were actually two large back rooms and a second level which were also in heavy use.

After two pizzerias, we were on to the best part of the tour: we got to try ‘churros y chocolate’ which are a very traditional treat of dulce de leche-filled churros dipped in hot chocolate (doesn’t sound terrible, right?) I am not sure if I wished we had tried this treat sooner, or if I am grateful we didn’t. We all loved this treat, but if we had enjoyed them regularly during our stay in BA, I am certain we would need to be rolled on to the boat and bus to get to our next stop when we leave later this week.

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And that’s not all! Believe it or not, our tour was not yet complete because we hadn’t yet tried some of the city’s best ice cream at heladeria Cadore. After resting (and digesting) for a few minutes in one of the many librerias (bookstores) in this part of town, we made our way into the heladeria (ice cream store) and enjoyed the ‘gelato artigianale.’ In addition to six different types of dulce de leche flavors, they also had all of the classics, and we left happy and (very) full. Vanessa had her favorite, dulce de leche and lemon, and swears that its a combination that cannot be beaten.

This past weekend we were fortunate to spend a day and night at Estancia La Sofia, a ranch that is about 1 hour (60 miles) north of Buenos Aires. Near the town of San Antonio de Areco, La Sofia is a beautiful ranch run by a retired professional polo player Argentine Marcos Antin Guiraldes and his German wife Silke, both of whom are accomplished polo players. The Estancia hosts professional polo players, a polo school, and breeds polo horses, but it’s also just a beautiful place to relax in the expanse of the Argentine Pampas. We were treated to horseback-riding, delicious (and abundant) meals, and the peace and quiet of the countryside in a spectacular setting. After a month in BA, it was a welcome retreat, and we were so grateful for the opportunity to stay there. The Estancia has 6 rooms and so hosts small groups of guests with shared meals and experiences. We had the pleasure of sharing a few meals with an engaged couple and a single woman traveler all from the UK (in or near London), as well as a French national and his 10 year old daughter who split their time (along with his wife and other two daughters) between Antigua, Guatemala, and Greenville, South Carolina. Interesting people and stories to be told all around, and everyone getting to know our fellow travelers just added to our enjoyment.

Cecelia, Jim and I even got to try our hands at polo (if you can call it that based on our progress). Despite my illustrious field hockey career, I did not immediately succeed at making contact with my polo ‘taco’ (the name for the stick, or mallet). We had fun though, and had sore wrists and arms the next day to prove it. Horseback riding for the second time on this trip, Cecelia reminded us that she would like a pony when we return to Berkeley. She loves to ride, and she also got to help groom one of the horses, Pablo, which she loved.

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Some of our expressions notwithstanding, this was the beautiful setting for a delicious lunch on the day we left La Sofia to return to Buenos Aires.

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Colin almost looked like a jockey, with his proportions to the horse. He was a bit disappointed that he didn’t get to control the horse himself and try polo, but there’s always next time (when he’s at least double his current size so I don’t have to worry so much!)

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We learned from Marcos that Argentine polo players are the best in the world (also very humble :)) and that at tournaments hosted outside of Argentina, teams are limited to two Argentine players per side to keep things ‘fair.’ The Argentine Open Polo Tournament just started here in Palermo a few days ago (and runs through mid-December, and is one of the oldest polo competitions in the world. It is regarded as the top competition because it allows more than two Argentines to play per side and so the level of play is the highest of any of the other major international competitions.

It’s been a fun and busy month in BA and despite what it seems (or what the pictures show) we’ve done a lot more than eat our way around town. We’ll be sad to say goodbye to our favorite local parks (almost all with carousels, or “calesitas”), beautiful Spring weather, devoted futbol fans, and super friendly and welcoming portenos.

Next up is Uruguay! Stay tuned for more adventures from the land of (more) futbol (starring Luis Suarez), (more) mate’ (more) beef and gauchos. After a few days in Montevideo, we’ll be in Punta del Este, a beach town on the southeastern peninsula of the country.

Chau for now.

 

 

Daily writings featuring Cecelia, Sean and Colin…

In our homeschool activities, we try to make sure all of the kids are doing different types of writing including fiction, non-fiction, ‘persuasive,’ opinion writing, etc. With Colin, Jim and I take turns taking dictation. In addition to checking off some of the boxes on the homeschool checklist, we get to enjoy their perceptions and perspectives on our trip experiences. Here are some of our recent favorites.

From Sean: “The Argentine Experience” [a dinner-theater type of activity that we attended last week]

“First we made carne empanadas. Then we did creative empanadas. Next we had the “snack” which was pork sasauge, sweet sasauge, bread with melted cheese and red sauce. When the steak came we ate it. The next thing was they taught us 5 hand symbols and Argentine expressions like “que te pasa” (what’s up with you, what’s your problem), “ojo” (I’m watching you), “la posta” (perfect, just right), “que se yo” (not my problem, what have I got to do with it?) and “no seas codito” (literally means “don’t act like an elbow” but means don’t be cheap…don’t have short arms that prevent you from reaching for your wallet) [italic translations added by Carly].

We also made pre-dessert which was fruit and cheese and was good. Then we made real dessert, which was so good. It was mate’ and homemade alfohores and we ate it all up. The next thing we did was went crazy and won a jar of dulce de leche. We acted crazy all the way home.

The End.”

All of the kids have been using their new Argentine expressions liberally, including a few times to other kids at the park who weren’t playing nice. Kind of funny, but we’re keeping an eye on it (“ojo”) just in case…

From Cecelia: “My Sunday in Buenos Aires”

“Yesterday was Sunday and the first thing I did was get up and breakfast. For breakfast I had two croissants, a yogurt, and a piece of fruit. Then I went out on our upstairs balcony and did a fifteen minute intense Nike workout with my mom. We also did a moderate one which was a whole lot easier. Then we got ready to leave.

When we finally got outside we walked down the street one way to go to a bank when we got there and tried it, it did not work. Then we went up the street a different way to try and catch a cab and we tried about 4 times before we succeeded and then when we finally got in one we stopped at about four banks on the way and they all did not work.

When we finally got there (the ‘cowboy fair’) we had to walk a couple of blocks and we saw an ice cream place. When we got to the actual fair part we walked around and looked at all the souvenirs and things people made for other people to buy.

Then my Dad ran to a bank to try and get some money and it worked!!

When he got back we went to get something cold to eat: a popsicle, I got strawberry and it was delicious. Then we went to watch the stage for a bit and the person playing was pretty good. Next we (we meaning the kids) tried to convince our parents to let us go on this awesome bouncy house but they said no. So we kept walking and we saw a booth selling jerseys so we got Sean Di Maria from Paris Saint Germain, I got Messi from Barcelona, and Colin got the same as me. (From Carly: Colin might dispute this wording since he actually picked first, but perceptions…)

After we got the jerseys we had to decide whether to take the bus back or take a cab back. We chose the bus. (It was a big mistake). So my Dad went to get the bus pass from one of the nearby convenience stores. We went to the first one but they did not have them. He went to the second one, but they only had the thing to charge them, so he had to run around the corner to the one that had the actual pass to get the pass and then run back to the other one to get it charged. I know right, alot of running. When he finally got back we went to catch the bus which when we first got there was only one seat but eventually we all got seats. The bus ride was really boring and long so when we finally got off I was super relieved that I didn’t die of boredom.

After we got off we walked home and had a delicious dinner: spaghetti and cabbage salad. When we finished dinner we went to the park to play soccer but I fell and hurt both of my wrists and the have been hurting ever since.

The End :)”

As Cecelia highlights, we’ve learned that many ATMs in Buenos Aires do not function on weekends- they either won’t process any transactions or just do not have money for withdrawals. It took us two weekends to realize this pattern, and now we know that locals (called ‘portenos’) get their cash out on Thursday or Friday for the weekend.

As far as cabs are concerned, it is actually illegal for cabs to pick up more than 4 passengers, which does present a challenge when you’re a family of 5. We’ve learned that some drivers care about this rule and some do not, and if we’re trying to hail a cab anywhere in the vicinity of a police station, our odds of getting one decrease substantially.

An excerpt from Sean about that same Sunday:

“We woke up and watched cartoons. Then we went to a bank and it was closed. Next we got a taxi and when we got there we paid him. Then we went to the fair. My Mom and Dad got a beer and we didn’t have enough money to get back.”

For the record, and in our defense, we always had enough money for the (boring) bus and it was also extremely hot (90F) so beer was somewhat imperative…

From Colin: “Animals that eat animals” (not for the faint of heart)

A jaguar ate a skunk, but the skunk tried to spray him with his stinky spray. And then a fight happened between a hippopotamus and a rhinoceros, the hippo got the rhinoceros bloody and he almost ate him. And then a cheetah smelled something that tasted good. It was a mouse. And then he walked the way that he thought it was and then he tried to eat it and then it was there. Then the cheetah went “raaarhhh!” and the mouse went “squeak, squeak, squeak!” Then the mousey just crawled away to go back to his home and the cheetah walked away to his home too. And then on the way he smelled another thing, but it was a skunk and he didn’t want to get sprayed again so he just walked away.

The End.

More to come about our adventures in Buenos Aires! We’re having fun, enjoying Spring, and learning more and more Spanish every day.

Hasta Pronto

 

 

 

Homeschool(ing) is hard!

We’ve had so much fun traveling and seeing new sights that I’ve rarely mentioned what’s been going on in our “regular” lives so far living in Rio and Buenos Aires. One of the biggest challenges we’ve undertaken this year (in addition to traveling abroad with three young-ish children!) has been homeschooling. Let me start by saying (reiterating, really) that I have always been in awe (literally!) of the many teachers, coaches, camp counselors, and others that regularly provide care and education for our children.  Teachers especially are people I regularly look at and wonder to myself “how do they do that?” “How do they maintain the attention of 20+ students throughout an entire school day and also actually teach them things (without going nuts)?”

We have been so fortunate-we’ve enjoyed all of the schools we have attended so far- and we have had SO many amazing teachers and other role models support our children (and us) in their development and growth as students, and as people. All of our kids regularly refer to teachers they’ve had, and classroom experiences they remember, on a regular basis. Recently, Colin even told me which of his teachers always smell really good (in contrast to me teaching one morning in my sweaty gym clothes…) And the other day, in case my ego might go unchecked, Sean said “it’s not like you’re a real teacher-our real teachers are much better.”

When we decided to go on this trip, Jim and I made a huge spreadsheet (excel, of course)  with a checklist of all the things we’d need to do to prepare to travel in South America for 10 months. A key sign that we were both somewhat daunted by the task of homeschooling was that it was one of the very last things we tackled (or tried to tackle) from the list. (And for the record, only a very small number of items never got checked off at all…)

When we finally did get down to focusing on our homeschooling plans, one of the key things we did was talk to parents of other families who have undertaken similar trips with their families. Without fail, when we would mention to a friend or friend of a friend that we planned to homeschool in South America, they would either have their own homeschool experience, or connect us to a family that did. After a handful of these conversations, I think we both felt somewhat more confident that at the very least, our kids wouldn’t suffer for having been in our hands for their schooling for the amount of time we’re traveling. While I wouldn’t say anyone is truly suffering, our increased confidence might have been premature 😉

Let me be very clear and state that in no way was there ever a moment when I thought I could wake up one morning and suddenly know how to be a good 4th grade, 2nd grade, and pre-K teacher (especially with all the students in the same classroom!) While I received a lot of encouragement and support from people who had/have confidence in me as a teacher, I must say that I’m pretty sure some of them were just being nice 😉

Teaching is hard! (Obviously, say all my family members and friends who are teachers and who work with children…) And this is coming from someone who has access to 100% of the California State curriculum available to me in step by step lessons online (check it out: Online Core Curriculum). I still haven’t decided if the comprehensiveness of the online tools is a blessing or a curse…(blessing, because it’s all right there…curse, because, if it’s all right there, what excuses can there be?)

So there’s the curriculum: how much time does/should a teacher spend on preparation, learning the material, practicing instruction, pacing lessons appropriately, thinking of alternative strategies for students who don’t “get it” right away…there is so much to do, and obviously the good teachers we’ve known have done all of these things and more. And not to make excuses or anything, but have I mentioned that I’m not a teacher? (Jim, as many people know, does have teaching experience, and he’s done a lot of the homeschooling as well, but he also has a company to run of course…)

And after all of the time on the actual content and curriculum, there are the much more complex factors: stuff like the moods, aptitude, willingness to learn that kids bring to school each day, not to mention distractions from other students (eg brothers, sister). I might just be making excuses for myself, but I do happen to think that I get some pretty “special” behavior reserved for me as mom/teacher that maybe our kids’ teachers wouldn’t necessarily see at school.  (I can only hope that this is true!)

Of course teaching is also amazingly rewarding…as teachers (and parents) know, it’s a great feeling to share, show, explain something to a (your) child and have them learn it, or to see that “lightbulb” moment.  Sometimes, you might not see evidence of the learning for weeks or months, but its always rewarding, regardless of the wait. It’s also a great way to get immediate feedback -good, bad, and ugly. As ‘they’ say, feedback is a gift. You want honest feedback? Try to teach a 9-year old who stayed up too late about place value charts up to a million using dots, sticks, and pies.

For the record, I can honestly say that all of the kids have learned a lot since our trip started 9 weeks ago, and that some of what they have learned is the actual curriculum that they would be (are supposed to be) learning if we were home in Berkeley. I can also honestly say that they’ve all learned many things that they probably would not have ever been exposed to if we were home in Berkeley. So on the net learning front, we can say things are positive.

Another very positive note on the homeschooling front is that I’ve learned a few things myself: 1) some days will be better than others (for the kids, and for me); 2) like everything else I might undertake, practice and patience are the names of the game and 3) deep breaths, snacks, and recess go a long way (for all parties involved).

Homeschool(ing) has been an adventure unto itself so far. We’ve gotten some kinks worked out of the system, though others are sure to arise, and we’re forging ahead each of us learning and getting better at it each day.

Cheers to all the teachers and educators out there! More than ever, not a day goes by that I don’t miss you dearly, and appreciate you more than ever.

Hasta Pronto!