The nearest decent playground is a short subway ride away, so Tats and the boys went to check it out on Saturday, while I did a little planning for school.
(Click to enlarge)
It is not uncommon for travelers to Buenos Aires to take Spanish lessons with a local. There are also a number of institutes offering both Spanish and English private and group classes. In fact, Tats is scheduled to attend an intensive beginner class October - December, at the University here in the city.
As for myself and the boys, I figured we'd get by on my limited Spanish, acquired on various high school band trips to Spain, Mexico and Costa Rica, and the mother-induced "Spanish in 10 Minutes a Day" text which preceded it.
Also, I reasoned, we'd be too busy with home schooling (including French), to take Spanish lessons. We'd be fine!
Alas... one really cannot get by for more than a few days without at least a little Spanish here, as I am coming to realise. And my generic "Donde esta el telefono?" and "Me gusta tu motocycletta" just wasn't doing it for us. So, I began to research and haggle.
I soon found us a fellow, the Talking Monkey, he calls himself, who was willing to give us 8-10 beginner, family Spanish lessons, in our home, in exchange for me getting him online. Quite the artist, he drew his own logo. His (at the time of writing this blog post still very much "under construction") website is here.
Today was our first lesson, and as we covered introductions as well as the first half of the alphabet, and related phrases. Jorge, who is originally from Columbia but came to Argentina to study (he's a biologist) comes back on Wednesday; we'll try to do Wednesdays and Saturdays for an hour or so. First half with the kids, then a little more in-depth for me and Tats. We posted our notes from the first lesson by the kitchen table, for easy review.
As we were discussing his website, Jorge asked whether either of us knew anything about "Latex". Tats and I looked at each other, wondering if perhaps we had stumbled upon some kind of kink fetish our new teacher had... it turned out, though, that he was inquiring about "LaTex" a sort of programming language for math and science stuff. Turns out he is thinking about translating a math text for someone. And, wouldn't you know it -- Tats knew exactly what he was talking about!!!
We might just get a few more free lessons out of the Talking Monkey yet!
A few months ago, I was sent some samples of styluses (styli?) that work well with iPads and such. Intended to go with a program called Bamboo Paper, I immediately downloaded said app on our iPads.
Yesterday, we set up our virtual notebooks for school: A blue, square-paper notebook for maths, two yellow notebooks (one for word work, the other for rich mentor texts) and a green one for Social Studies.
Although the boys were excited about this new learning technology and keen to use their mini-pens, they found this particular stylus too small to work with (I think it would be ideal in the hands of a phone-wielding adult... it just didn't really work effectively with the kids' small hands). The other issue was that because of the extremely protective cases on their iPads, the stylus is somewhat difficult to use in terms of touch sensitivity (it worked fine on my unprotected screen).
I'm reticent to remove the boys' cases and let them work directly on the screen with the stylus, but am eager to find a solution -- the virtual notebook thing seems like it has a lot of potential, especially because we have so few "actual" supplies!
I've been trying to learn from others and live with less.
One of the key reasons we moved to Argentina for the school year was to expose the kids to life beyond the Walmart consumerism of capitalist North America. We were looking for a reasonable balance -- for their first real exposure -- of relative comfort and relative simplicity.
Buenos Aires has running water, paved roads and McDonalds (dare I confess I succumbed to said beast in a moment of desperation on our second day here and -- despite rarely if ever dining there back home -- bought the kids some chicken nuggets?!) But it also has about 11 brands of cereal at the grocery store instead of a thousand and fifty-three, and no chart boards or smelly markers at even the biggest, flagship Staples. Shanty towns are a reality. The subway is cheap (about 30 cents a ride, depending on your exchange rate), lineups are slow, graffiti prevails, children beg in the streets downtown, green space is limited, people are friendly and plentiful (even in the "suburbs"), ice cream shops abound, and"peanut butter" (sort of) is available at a premium cost at the health food store. We have heated floors, a flying pan that sticks and an unusable cheese grater. The zoo is free for children under 12, and reasonably priced for adults. Depending on how we prioritize our weekly cash budget and where we shop, life here is affordable enough that we can buy fresh flowers once a week.
So, while I had intended to learn to make do with less, I am finding there are many comforts of home and more. Heated floors? AWESOME!!!
I am also learning what is important to me: I nearly cried tears of joy when I found whole oats at a little shop near the botanical gardens yesterday. We still haven't figured out how to turn on the gas oven, so have been cooking everything on the stove (also gas). And I never thought I would so desperately lust after a decent cheese grater!!!
I've been reading the blog of a fellow teacher, an American, who lived "on the road" with her family for about five years. (She, too, has twins.) They biked everywhere, so living simply was essential.
She offers many valuable tips for those living abroad or one the road with children. (Of particular interest is this post I read this morning.)
A major theme on her blog is letting go and living without all the "stuff". And, while I admire and respect this woman, I GOTTA HAVE MY CHEESE GRATER!!! ;-P Happily, we are meeting a porteno this afternoon whom we hope to grill up about where to get a pot, frying pan and decent cheese grater at a reasonable price here in Buenos Aires!
Headed along the green line to Scalabrini Ortiz subway station today to check out Palermo Botanica (one of the greener and consequently less affordable parts of the city), and see about joining Club de Amigos, or "Club of Friends", a country club in the heart of the city. (As an aside, there is a decent playground on the walk between Scalabrini Ortiz Station and the Club, and there are also a number of decent grocers there, including a fish market, a bulk health food store, and a LARGE supermarket with LOTS of variety!!!)
The Club de Amigos is similar to Toronto's Boulevard Club (perhaps not quite as chi chi), and was recommended to me by another English-speaking, home schooling family who lived and blogged in BA last year. Apparently, her friends' kids had loved it, and she wished she had found it sooner. So, off we went, to see whether a) the boys even liked it, and b) whether we could afford it!
The boys liked it. They were keen to run on the track, play basketball, check out the tennis courts, and hang out on one of the two playgrounds the club -- which caters heavily to families -- offers. We decided that it would be an optimal location for the bi-weekly afternoon phys ed classes that Tatiana is going to run for the boys. (It is two-three subway stops plus a short walk away from our apt.)
The space is also fully wifi-equipped, making it an ideal study spot and general escape for Tats while I am home schooling in the mornings, or on days when she does not have the boys at all.
(didn't think to pull out a camera until the end of our tour, when the boys were checking out a big wall map of the place)
Next came the question of price. For all of us, including some basic activities and equipment rental until May 2014, the price would come to about $1000 US, depending on the exchange rate of the day.
Living on a restricted budget is an interesting experience. Spending a dollar here means taking it out of there, not just in theory, but actually! Signing all four of us up for the club would mean we can't buy a decent frying pan, cheese grater or a pot with a lid that works. And I don't know if I can live with the crap currently in the kitchen for the next 6 months!!! It would also mean fewer visits to the zoo, which the boys have already fallen in love with. When a stack of bills is spent on one thing, it isn't there to be spent on another. Although we are certainly not living in poverty, our budget is pretty strictly organized; there is really very little wiggle room, especially for large expenditures like this one.
In the end, we decided to sign up Tats and the boys, and that depending on week to week finances, I would sometimes come along on a guest pass.
The boys are looking forward to their new club membership, Tats is looking forward to a fully equipped gym class and safe, quiet study place, and I am looking forward to the possibility of them making some similar-aged friends there.
Viva La Club de Amigos!
One of the reasons this apartment appealed to me when I saw photos online was that -- despite the fact that the ancient furniture, abundance of wall hangings and superfluous wood screamed "grandmother's habitat", it seemed to feature a layout that would be conducive to home schooling: The kitchen is "eat in", which leaves the dining room table to work at. And the reams of shelving and storage in said dining room put most of the classrooms I've "lived" in over the years to shame!
So I set to work, tidying and packing away the various knickknacks currently on display, and setting out the many learning resources we had brought with us. And, after several hours of setting up and a quick (and somewhat disappointing) trip to the local Staples for some larger items, behold, our new classroom, ready for the first day of school this coming Monday! :-D
AFTER... (click to enlarge for big pictures with descriptive captions!)
The other day, it got awfully quiet all of a sudden... "Boys, are you okay?" I called from the dining room, at the other end of the apartment.
They were on the bed -- OUR bed, not theirs! -- fully co-engaged in recording the 17th episode of season 1, series 2 of "Queen Bumcheeks", a most ridiculous and limited-plot series they are developing on their own, spontaneously, using an app called Puppet Pals on their iPads, lol!!!
I had read about the Buenos Aires Zoological Gardens before we arrived here, and it was one of the reasons we looked for an apartment in this neighbourhood -- we are a half hour walk, or two subway stops, from the zoo!
But being there in person is a whole different ball of wax. The place is AMAZING!!! First of all, kids under 12 get in for free (as do senior citizens). Secondly, there are these cute, not-so-little rodents running around free everywhere. Thirdly, the selection of animals is quite varied, and although the cages are fairly generous, there is little space between them, and paths everywhere, so it is a pleasant and manageable walk for everyone.
There is also a merry go round (okay, it was a bit lame, kinda' slow, not very exciting, but for 30 cents a ride, what do you want?!) and a playground for kids.
We loved it, and will definitely be back!!!
(Click to enlarge images above.)
On our first "full" day here in the city, it was critical that we acquire a few staples -- most important was exchanging some money so we could buy groceries and other things, like, for example, a Subway card.
So, after exploring the building a bit, and getting locked in the garage for about half an hour, we had a friend's sister (she is living in BA currently) over to pick up some mail from her family, and tell us about how a few things work, from a local perspective.
Then, we set out to get some basics. What an adventure! Keep reading below to find out about money exchange, subway cards and grocery stores....