After a Long Hiatus: We’re Back!

Wow, it’s been a while. Sorry about the absence… Its been a busy year!

1. I have now completed my whole first year as a high school biology and environmental science teacher at a great private school! I really enjoyed myself and am certainly enjoying my summer break!

2. We have had a series of roommates, ending with the best… Matt! He moved back to the states in November, and in an effort to start up a business with my husband, he moved in with us. And he’s still here!

3. My husband and I bought a house! Its a super awesome place and I’m sure there’ll be lots of future posts about our adventures in home ownership.

4. My husband and I went to Europe (Italy and Croatia) to see one of our best friends get married to the man of her dreams in a crazy multilingual, multicultural week-long event near the sea.

I am going to try and get back into the habit of writing a post or two each week, or when something exciting happens. You can expect upcoming posts on the above topics as well as our gardening projects, putting in ceiling fans, and the gym!

Here’s a teaser picture for the next post… our vacation to Europe!

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Our Balcony Garden

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We decided to try our hand at growing green things this year. Ideally we’d love to have a whole garden and grow things in the ground, but our apartment living has relegated our experiment to our balcony and pots. This is our second round of growth. The first round of basil, mint, and cilantro was wiped out my some kind of aphid infestation.

All of our plants have come from seeds. We have used a miniature plastic greenhouse to start growing the seeds which has worked great, although it might have led to the demise of our cilantro by making them grow too quickly and getting top-heavy. When the seedlings reached the miniature greenhouse lid, we planted them in real pots and left them outside.

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This second round of plants consists of basil (in the two small rectangular planters), purple tomatillos (in the large rectangular planters), and tomatoes (in the large pots). Hopefully the basil will grow big and strong and we can make some yummy pesto and the purple tomatillos sounded like they would make an excellent and visually stimulating salsa. The tomatos were given to us as seeds of two different types already planted in small pots. Of course we now have no idea which type is which because the cat knocked the pots, soil and seeds off the table before they could make it to the balcony. We were still hopeful and pushed the soil back into the pots and put them outside. Despite their rough beginnings they have grown big and strong!

Oh yeah… and our little aloe plant is as happy as can be, even if we do forget to water it!

Big News: We Are Headed Back to Atlanta!

For those of you that haven’t been privy to my weekly rantings about how horrible the job market is, how saturated the applicant pools are, and how tough it has been to keep my head on straight… I finally found a job. Not to worry, it only took a full year of looking.

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I will be employed by the Westminster Schools in Atlanta as a biology and environmental science teacher for the coming school year. I will be teaching four classes of 11th or 12 graders. The Westminster Schools are one of the top independent schools in the Atlanta area and boasts class sizes of ~15 students, state of the art athletic facilities, copious professional development opportunities for teachers, and unique learning environments (e.g., a greenhouse, organic garden, and a creek running through the property). One of the things I will be focusing on is trying to contribute a projects- and inquiry-based environment to my and other science classrooms based on my experience with those learning techniques at the college level. It will probably take a while to adjust to the high school setting, but I am very excited to become a part of the Westminster community.

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Asa and I are both very excited to be headed back to Atlanta come July. Asa will likely be playing with Chain Lightening again for the club ultimate season and I will hopefully be training for a half marathon with old running buddies. In the coming months we’ll be looking for a place to live in the Atlanta area; hopefully where we can stay a 1 car family. Although it still feels like we are in some kind of limbo, it’s nice to know that we have a place we need to be and a purpose for being there!

Stay tuned for a future post about some observations I made while job hunting.

Back for 2013, Just a Little Late

So I think the last place we left you was with Matt in Thailand and Asa and I in some kind of crazy limbo living situation.

Well, I am happy to report that we moved into a nice two bedroom apartment near the beach in Jacksonville. We are planning on being here until August when I will surely have a job. Regardless of the job situation, we will find ourselves seeking a new abode somewhere.

Being near the beach is great and we are within biking distance of the grocery store, the gym, the bank, restaurants, the beach, and a dog park. Riding our bikes has been great and we hope to keep up the habit regardless of where we end up.

In other news, Asa will be trying out for Team USA (Ultimate Frisbee) in a couple weeks. This year’s competition is called the World Games and it will be held in August in Cali, Colombia. The USA is taking a 13 person mixed gender squad to compete. We’ll keep you posted on any news we hear.

With that, I think I’ve caught you up on the major events of the past couple months (yeah, not a lot going on). I will try to be better with posting fun stuff we do around Jacksonville. I even pulled out and charged my camera in anticipation!

I’ll just leave you with some nice pics of the St. Augustine Turtle Trot (5K) that Asa’s mom and I ran together a couple weeks ago. I won third place in my age group and got an awesome hand-carved wooden turtle medal (that the cat promptly knocked of our table and the dog promptly ate!).

Us after the race!

Us after the race!

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The beach at St. Augustine. Flat, warm, and sandy!

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Cars are allowed to drive/park on the beach as long as they have 4-wheel drive and pay the parking fee. I had to laugh at the little sedan that we saw driving down there. Hope they didn’t get stuck!

Surprise Electricity Bill

Electricity is an expensive component of Uruguayan living expenses. The main reason being that a large percentage of electricity in Uruguay is imported from Argentina and Brazil. As with everything else that is imported, it’s expensive. Most of the electricity generated within the country comes from hydroelectric sources, and the electrical industry in Uruguay is controlled solely by the national company, UTE. As always wikipedia has an interesting article about the production and use of electricity in Uruguay if you’re interested.

When we got our electricity bill this month we were a little surprised. We have been paying on average about $50 US a month for our electricity. The electricity bill the month before last popped up to about $100 US. We figured it was because it started to get cold and we started to use the heater a bit more. Well, the bill this month came to a whopping $243 US. I guess that’s the price for having the heater on all the time.

Out of curiosity, we calculated what the same usage would cost us in our previous residence in Atlanta, GA. The answer: about $100 US. This matches closely to the amount we paid for electricity in the winter months in Atlanta in a 3 bedroom house. This means two things: 1) that the heating system here is super inefficient and 2) electricity costs more than twice as much in Uruguay than Atlanta.

I’d like to say that we could just turn the heater off to save money, but I work from the house. If it’s too cold I can’t get much done because I’m completely uncomfortable. I guess if I was working in an office space the money we are spending on electricity would just go toward transportation and office space instead, and we wouldn’t really be saving money.

You Can Find Anything At The Deli Counter

In many of the large grocery stores we have gone to here in Uruguay, the deli counter has been impressive. Many of the stores also have an entire wall dedicated to deli style serving counters. Also, the deli counter is not just relegated to prepared meats and cheeses.

The following photo is from our neighborhood Devoto grocery store. It just goes on and on.

The deli counter consists of (in order from closest to farthest away in the photo above):

1. A selection of fish.

2. Prepared food. They have individual, daily prepared, single-serve meals of pasta and sauce, tortas, chicken fingers, rice, etc…

3. A section of desserts. A wide section of desserts. They have pastries, both savory and sweet, and a huge selection of small cookies, candies, and bite-size cakes (for reference, the woman with the basket in the above photo is admiring the baked goods collection).

4. A section of handmade cakes, a full 12 inches of round chocolate and dulce de leche deliciousness.

5. A section for pasta. All grocery stores make their own pasta despite there being a slew of specialty pasta stores in every neighborhood (called a Fabrica de pasta). You can purchase boxed fresh pasta with the rest of the packaged pasta in the refrigerated section, but you can also order pasta at the deli counter. I haven’t figured out if there is a difference yet!

6. A ham section. In the U.S. this would be the deli meats section, but in Uruguay it’s the ham section. A normal grocery store here has a selection of 20-30 different kinds of ham (none of them peppered or honey-baked, just regular ham). There is sometimes a selection of salami (maybe 5 different types). And you can buy what look to be individual hot dogs, which are probably actually some kind of fancy sausage (although most sausage is bought already packaged from the refrigerated section).

7. A cheese section. Most of this cheese is mozzarella which is fairly common. The rest is either Colonia or parmesan. Colonia seems to be a general term for a cheese that comes in a lot of different varieties: colonia farming, colonia suiza, plain old colonia. All the cheeses, parmesan excluded, are rather flavorless. There is absolutely no equivalent to a good extra sharp cheddar cheese from the U.S. There are imported cheeses in the refrigerated section like brie, cambefort, blue cheese and sometimes gouda, but they are extremely expensive and sometimes not very flavorful either.

8. A beef section. Name a part of the cow and they will have it at the deli counter. Want ground beef? They have that too. They also have Asado meat (a cut of the ribs), a variety of filets and steaks, and tongue (yep, it’s true – they use it in a traditional dish called guiso).

As you will notice, there is the complete absence of a poultry section. You can get packaged chicken in the refrigerated section, but a specialty store probably has a much better selection.

Also, each of the separate sections have a little take-a-number machine. Each section has one or two dedicated workers serving behind the counter. Even so, sometimes there are hoards of people waiting. No one ever seems to mind, they just take their number and wait.

We Say Goodbye To Matt

Matt made his exit from Montevideo on Thursday night. The days coming up to his departure were full of seeing people and fun activities.

Saturday night a couple of friends were gracious enough to host a “Despedida” (going away party) for Matt at someone’s house. There were drinks, food, and good conversations. There was also some gift giving and some challenges to drink beer out of a frisbee. For those of you that don’t know, it is possible to fit an entire pitcher of beer within a frisbee. Many people don’t believe this and do stupid things to prove that it is false (like trying to drink an entire frisbee full of beer within 20 seconds… good luck with that one).

The majority of the ultimate team here in Uruguay. They made Matt a poster collage of photos from his time in Montevideo.

Sunday was a great day of frisbee out at the beach. After finishing up, Matt did a great job practicing his minimalist lifestyle by giving away a bunch of his ultimate jerseys to the players here in Montevideo. The people here will greatly appreciate nice jerseys, and Matt has about a billion of them. At this point, Juanma can dress completely in clothes given to him by Matt (including cleats). It’s like a South American version of Matt!

Juanma, Matt, and Carlos at the beach.

Tuesday was dinner with our good friend Paco at La Lupita. We have been here once before, and yes, the margaritas were just as potent as the first time!

Wednesday, Matt’s last night in town, we went to a parilla (grill) so that Matt could eat one last steak. Chandro was gracious enough to come with us. The restaurant was great! Chandro had a traditional asado, Matt had a cut of steak, and Asa and I split some chicken and veggie skewers. The boys ordered caipirinha’s, a Brazilian cocktail. It is made from a Brazilian liquor called cachaça, which is similar to rum but made from cane sugar.

Thursday Matt and I took a trip downtown with the quest of finding gifts for his family that they would actually use and enjoy. The day was a little gloomy and once it actually started to rain all the vendors quickly packed up their wares. Matt was left with only the small magnet he had purchased. It’s probably for the best because his family probably didn’t really want bracelets or little wire figurines anyway. I imagine they’ll be happy enough just to see him again!

Matt managed to pack everything up, including the 5 bottles of grapamiel (a local liquor that I’ll talk about in another post) he had saved to take back to the states. He headed to the airport with plenty of time, as they had delayed the flight by almost an hour. Unknown if the delay was caused by weather here in Montevideo (it was rainy) or by weather in Miami (from TS Debby).

Based on our intelligence, Matt made it to Las Vegas for his sister’s wedding, but only after being detained by US customs for about 45 minutes in Miami. They apparently found his story about quitting his job and moving to Uruguay a little fishy. He missed his direct flight to Vegas and had to be re-routed through Los Angeles. Hopefully he’ll get on the blog and tell everyone about his experience.

So what are we doing now? Well Asa and I are going to enjoy our last four weeks in Montevideo. We have already taken over Matt’s room. Just kidding! We don’t really have a bucket list of things to do before we leave. We’ve already done most of the things to do in the city and the ones that we haven’t done don’t sound that interesting. So I think we’re just going to enjoy immersing ourselves in the Montevideo culture for another couple weeks and call it good!

Matt is in Vegas for about a week and then he is headed to the Philippines for a two week internet business program being held at some resort right on the beach. Poor Matt! He’ll be there two weeks beforehand and probably two weeks after. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess (including himself) what he’ll do. I tell you all this so that you won’t wonder why Matt fell off the grid for so long, but we’ll get him to come back to the blog when he’s got some time! We wish Matt good luck in his travels and know we’ll see him sometime in the future!

The Laundry Never Dries!

We have had some trouble of late with drying our laundry. We like the addition of the washing machine in our new apartment, but it doesn’t come with a dryer. Our only “dryers” are the air and sun, which is a bit unfortunate considering that the humidity is upwards of 80-90% most days and the sun doesn’t reach our balcony.

A laundry drying rack has been included in our “inventory” for us to lay our clothes on to dry. After the first couple of times doing laundry and using our rack, we realized that it shouldn’t really take 2 days for clothes to dry. Being the smart people that we are, we utilized a stand-up fan (also in the inventory) to help dry our clothes. Now, instead of two days, we get dry clothes in a couple hours.

Here is our lovely laundry rack with fan set-up. You may also notice that it’s pouring down rain outside. Go figure!

Another thing that adds to our humidity problem is that there is no fan in the bathroom. The moist air from a nice hot shower always permeates the house and condenses on all the windows. Again, this wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t so humid naturally. Inevitably the water from the windows drips onto the sills and then down the wall. This resulted in a small mildew problem that was quickly remedied by a wipe-down of the walls with a bit of bleach.

It’s very interesting the problems that arise when it’s humid all year long!

Trash Service in Montevideo

Some of you may be wondering about basic services in the city here. Well, the only one that we’ve found remarkably different is the trash service.

Individual households are not given trash bins, nor do apartment buildings have their own trash service. Instead there are large green dumpsters on the corner of every street. These dumpsters are covered and have a step pedal so that you don’t have to get dirty throwing your trash away. City trash men come around during the night and empty the big dumpsters into their garbage truck.

For those that don’t know, Buenos Aires trash service is similar except without the dumpsters. People throw all their trash (in bags) on the sidewalk on trash night and the garbage men come along to collect it. Makes walking around the city unpleasant on some nights and also makes for dirty streets.

Another interesting aspect of the trash service around here is that there are numerous people and families that make a living off of dumpster diving. They drive around horse-pulled carts in which they store their spoils. They collect anything of value out of the dumpsters including: clothes, plastic or glass bottles (see below), food, cardboard, or really anything that could be re-sold. Sometimes dumpster diving literally involves someone getting into the dumpster and propping open the lid, while other times it just means peering in and grabbing whatever is visible.

On a normal walk through the streets, even a short trip, you can seen these horse-drawn carts. The cars are polite and keep their distance. The horses all wear side blinders so that they don’t get startled by traffic. Most of the horses seem to be kept in pretty good condition, leading me to believe that people can actually make a decent living dumpster diving. Many of these horse-drawn teams likely live a bit out of the city center where there is more green space.

There is also no organized recycling service in Montevideo, but some plastic and glass bottles are returnable. When purchasing say a 2 liter bottle of Coke, it comes in a glass bottle and you pay a fee for the glass. The next time you go to the grocery store you can bring the empty bottle and get the fee back. There are machines in the back of large grocery stores where you can return bottles. Many of the 300 mL cokes that are purchased in restaurants are recycled in the same manner by the restaurant. It is not uncommon to purchase a coke in a restaurant and have the label be a bit worn from the process.