Moms, Daughters, and a Love Song

14 Oct Sophie's Book

“But WHY are we doing this anyway?” she is sniffling with tears streaming down her 9-year old face.

I have no answer. She is asking a simple question. Why are we building another story onto our just-fine little house? Hell I don’t know what to tell her. Right now I can’t even remember why. It seemed like a great idea before. We didn’t want the kids to have to sleep in the basement anymore. Was that it?  Whatever. We decided to do it. I have no great answers and it doesn’t matter anyway. The toothpaste is out of the tube. The ship has sailed. Sorry, kiddo.

We’re moving boxes into the rental house for 6 months while our house gets a 2nd story. My son doesn’t seem to notice that we even moved by the way. But my daughter. She noticed. Now I’m left to comfort this sad stressed kid.

In that second my head spins. Syrian refugees. Children without parents, let alone without homes. School shootings. Boko Haram. Climate change. We are about to gain 8.2 degrees in the next 85 years and the ice sheets are melting. My dear friend died and left her boys and husband and mom behind to miss her. That stuff. That stuff is big. Our stuff. Our stuff is little stuff. I should have this under control. First world problems.

But then there is her face. Worried. Sad. Scared. I drop the box I’m holding. “Kiddo, we are just moving out for a bit and it will all be okay. We’ll get to move back in. Promise.”

Sophie's Book

Sophie’s Book

She nods but doesn’t seem comforted. I’m not doing this right. She brings me a little paper book she had written called “Moving Out, Moving In” telling her story of change. In it, she writes about how she cried on the playground today and was embarrassed when kids asked her why. Then she wrote, “Moving can be stressful. I don’t suggest it”.

Later when I come to say goodnight she cries on her pillow and tells me she never wants to move out of our house. Already worried about the day when she will have to leave home. Says she feels safe with us, at home. Says she wants to live with us forever and ever. My heart melts a little, knowing her feelings are fleeting but pretending they’re not.

The next day I’m driving. Kids in back. That song, Photograph, came on the radio that Soph and I always sing together. A catchy pop love song that hits us both in that place. That I-understand-you spot. We’ve talked about it. How it reminds us that we will always be connected no matter where we are. With all the change lately — it matters more today. “Keep me inside the pocket of your ripped jeans…” it goes on… “I swear it will get eeeeeasier…”… “and time’s forever frozen — still”.


My mama tears are coming. I feel ‘em. No sense stopping them, I’m facing forward anyway and she can’t see me.

The backseat is quiet and I know she is listening to the words, “you won’t ehhh-ver be alone — wait for me to come home.”

I reach back like I do. And we squeeze hands like we do. Then we let go.

At a stoplight I sneak a peek in the rear view mirror. Tears are streaming down her face. Her face, and mine. Oh kid. Oh kiddo I am so sorry you inherited the easy-cry-when-love-songs-play gene. My bad.

I try some comforting words as the radio sings, “I won’t ehhh-ver let you go…”

Little brother Max hears the tears in my voice and blurts out “Wait. You guys are BOTH crying?! What is WRONG with you guys?! Is it this SONG again?”

Okay so apparently he didn’t get the gene.

Then the obvious slams me right smack in the face again. My little world, my photograph, it’s insignificant. The real world is big. We are still just a speck. Look at all the million big things in the world that matter more. Did I mention the 8.1 degrees of global warming by 2100? Or the Syrian refugees? My brain hurts.

Monty Python

But you know, maybe this does matter. Maybe, just maybe, it matters the most. Not my first world stressors. But a mom, any mom. Her child, any child, anywhere. That. That relationship matters. Matters to everyone who has ever been born, and to those who been lucky enough to still have a parent, let alone to be a parent.

It matters. And it isn’t all small stuff. It’s big. Bringing up the next generation of humans not to shoot people, and not to break the planet, and not to wage war, and not to base the value of a soul through a political or religious lens, and to use the oxford comma whenever you feel it is warranted, and to give what you can to those who need it.

In fact, it may be all we got. These relationships.

Well that, and we seriously need to stop producing so much carbon.

Messi and Max

25 Feb Max watching Messi nervously, in the World Cup this summer

Wrote this many months ago during the World Cup (Sept 2014) and just came across the draft. Posting it now ~ 5 months later.

Leo Messi

Leo Messi



Watching your kid watch something amazing. Eyes open. Wide open. Know what I mean?

This week, I watched Max (6) watch one of the world’s best soccer players during the World Cup. Okay specifically I watched Max as he watched his absolute favorite soccer player – Lionel Messi. Max focused. He watched Messi race, head, flip, blast, and sugar-pass that soccer ball with shocking precision.

So what.

Max watching Messi nervously, in the World Cup this summer

Max watching Messi nervously, in the World Cup this summer

It’s just a game.

To Max it’s more. And watching him be inspired. To me, it’s more.

Max studies details. He’s charged with energy and daring as hell – which explains our frequent ER visits. He has spunk. But the first thing folks notice when they meet him? He’s sure a short little dude isn’t he. Ah, the comments. Yep, he’s short. Yep, he’s really 6. Yep, he’s really in 1st grade. Yep, really.

True. Max will never be as tall as other kids. Not close. He is years behind. We get it. He gets it. He has a condition that isn’t allowing him to grow in line with his peers. We don’t have all the answers about what his options may be.

But one thing we do know. Someone else had the same thing. Guess who? Lionel Messi. Yep the soccer star. I found this out when we were in Argentina. A friend asked me if I knew, that as a kid Messi had the same growth challenges Max has. I dropped my jaw. Then the next time I found myself alone I closed my eyes and cried in my hands.

I couldn’t wait to tell Max. And when I did you should have seen the smile that crossed his face.

“He’s like me? I mean, so, I’m like him?”

Messi. Always the shortest in his class by a head or more. Originally tossed off as too short to play. He showed them. He showed us. He showed Max. That it didn’t matter how short he was to be the best. In the WORLD. And that. THAT. Is what I see in Max’s eyes when he watches Messi make contact with the ball.

Now go get ’em Max. Go get ’em, kiddo.

Re-Entry: Facing a Wall of Butter

3 Oct chalkboard

A wall of butter.


There I was standing in front of a wall of butter, lost. I froze like an idiot staring into the shelves. All the smart shoppers pushed through to grab their butter. Why did she take Tillamook Organic Unsalted and he took Land-O-Lakes Salted? Why in God’s name are there so many different kinds of butter!? Which one did I used to buy? Why?

I thought, I can’t digest this. The options. The noise. The rush. Wait what? I see FIVE lanes at check-out, all working, all quickly. No one seems annoyed that I don’t have anything smaller than a 10-dollar bill to pay for my butter. There is no cadre of unleashed dogs waiting outside the door. I am not in Argentina.

Just 60 hours earlier, we left our house in Bariloche, headed for the airport. Our family of four arrived to check in for our first flight in the journey back to Seattle. Home.

Planned perfectly down to the peso, we had just enough cash (efectivo) for airport food and the cost of a cab to switch airports in Buenos Aires, and exactly 2 prepaid minutes left on our Argentine cell phone. The luggage was weighed out to the ounce. 4 bags to check. 4 to carry-on. Gluten-free snacks packed for Max. We were golden.

The plan was for me to get the luggage sorted and wait there with the kids, while Jonah drove the car we had rented for the past 6 months back to the owner’s house. Jonah would take a cab back to the airport. We were so early. Easy peasy.

We stood in line all smiles, waxing poetic about our trip and soaking it in. The last few hours would be a breeze. I told the kids, “Maybe we can sit outside in the sun before going through security. Dad won’t be back for a bit and we have tons of time before the flight to Buenos Aires.”

We reach the front of the check-in line. The agent at the counter tells us our flight has been canceled so we have been re-booked on an earlier flight. The new flight leaves in 20 minutes. Say que!? What the hell are we going to do with the car?

I call Mo. “Mo we have to ask you a huge favor, we’re at the airport and we need you to-”. We get cut off. The call is dropped. No more prepaid minutes on our Argentine plan. Nowhere to buy more. The plane is boarding.

I still have email access on my phone. We email Mo. “Mo, we are leaving the car at the airport. Key in wheel well. Please return it to the rental guy. Gracias y besos!”

There was nothing else we could do but get on that plane, pray that Mo would do it, and laugh at our idiocy. Mo was a saint, found the car in the airport lot and returned it. The best part? She returned it to the wrong driveway. But it worked out just fine. Thanks Mo!

Max (back in Seattle) in the Messi jersey he wears almost daily

Max (back in Seattle) in the Messi jersey he wears almost daily

Made it to Buenos Aires, took a cab to the “other airport” before starting our 32-hour journey back to Seattle. We used our remaining pesos to buy Max his prized Messi jersey.

We landed in Houston to screaming country music blaring through speakers and lots of noise and color. It felt like a foreign country. Oh wait, right.

Houston-San Fran-Seattle. Made it. Once in Seattle, our friends the Daniels Family greeted us with hugs (and balloons!) at the airport.

The Daniels Family picked us up, with balloons!

The Daniels Family picked us up, with balloons!

At home, we found our door – the same red door we left only 6 months earlier. The porch was covered in welcome home signs. We were home. It felt amazing.

Our Seattle family (the Prosise/Smiths) were in the house to surprise us when we drove up to the house. So many hugs. It felt amazing.

I expected that feeling of elation to be home. I didn’t expect how quickly things would return to normal.



Weeks later people would ask, “Are you settled in yet?” and I would answer “Are you kidding. We were settled in 48 hours after we landed.”

That was the truth. And that was the shocker.

Had we ever left? Had we gone anywhere? Had we learned anything? We got home and put on our old habits like we’d slip on our favorite fleece. Soccer games on Saturday; Staff meeting on Wednesdays; Walk the dog – same route; “Hey, let’s order Thai take-out.”

Others had already told us. We were warned.

So, tell me. How do you hold on to the memory of an experience when everything around you says you never left? I don’t have the best memory. It’s true. Sometimes Jonah says “How’s the new castle?” meaning I’m like a fish in a fishbowl seeing the same damn castle but thinking it is new. I’d be insulted but he’s right. So how do I keep these memories alive?

For me it’s the pictures. The pictures. They pop up on my laptop screensaver in the miracle that is slideshow mode. Photos of the kids first day at Colegio del Sol; Max and Sophie arm in arm laughing on a hike in El Chalten; changing a flat tire on Ruta 40; our dog Tana, playing with Sophie in the yard.

max rockNo. We didn’t dream our time in Argentina, climbing, traveling, stumbling over words, kissing the plumber and his assistant hello and goodbye whenever they came to fix the leaky toilet, anxiously waiting for Jonah to reappear after climbing for a week in the Fitz Roy range. When I see the pictures, I remember.

It happened. And we made it. I have pictures to prove it.

windBut do I feel different? Did that short 6-months change us? I can’t tell yet. One thing I do know is that looking back – it was easy. Ridiculously easy. I mean. Okay, the language barriers were intense for me at times (like, every day) and getting a grip on local ways of thinking and getting around was a challenge (like, every day). But it gave us a sense that we don’t even know how much we don’t know.

It was like my brain woke up.

Instead of our habits, we were forced to wake up and find new ways through our days.

max and Camila Ross love kids CdSol Dani and Max Craig Ross

Then BAM. Just like that I am back at the grocery store staring at that wall of butter. Yep. Different. The choice. The speed. The noise. The rush rush crazy rush of it all. But we got reacquainted with the rush in no time. We’ve been home for nearly 5 months now and I’m just now writing this re-entry post. See what I mean?

This week, Sophie got a handwritten letter from her friend Nikolay. I could not wait to tell her when I picked her up from school!

“Wait. Mom, so who is Nikolai again?” she said.

I gasped. No. I nearly cried, “Sophie! What do you mean WHO is Nikolay? Your friend from Bariloche. In your class – your good friend!”

“But Mom, I don’t really remember a Nikolay.”


I was crushed.

Had she forgotten everything?

Was it all a waste of time?

Did we take them too young?!

She is in the backseat and she rips open the letter. I watch her in the rearview mirror and suddenly, she is beaming. “Mom Koliayou mean Kolia! Of course I remember Kolia, Mom. But you’re funny. No one ever calls him Nikolay.”

Relief. She remembers. Of course she remembers. They call him Kolia. Right.

I went immediately to the local drug store photo kiosk to print out a picture of Kolia so I can be sure she will never forget.

And I won’t either. Because I have a picture.

A Slideshow No One Has to Watch

10 May

2013-11-30 06.11.31

On our way home from Argentina, Jonah and I joked about sending out invitations to friends inviting them to join us for a looooooong slideshow “including hours of fascinating commentary and hundreds of photos from our trip, complete with a sampling of national Argentine foods and a Powerpoint lecture summarizing the history of politics in Argentina” … And then on the bottom of the invitation we would say: Just kidding. No slides. No boring lecture. Join us for beer though, we missed you.

But my fear was that people would already be so bored by reading the invitation alone, that they wouldn’t make it past “hours of commentary…”to see that we were kidding. So we never ended up doing it.

In short, we won’t make anyone listen to stories or look at pictures when we see you. I promise.

I made this slideshow on the way home, mostly as a gift for Jonah’s 41st birthday. I added a title page and I will post it here. That way no one will feel forced to look at our photos, ever. Because people will be nice and pretend, but really. I mean, really. The Family Sabbatical Handbook told me that about 1 in 10 friends will honestly care about your trip and be interested in seeing photos, while the other nine will just pretend.

So if any of those 1 in 10 are out there, here is a selection of our past 6 months of pictures accompanied by none other than Katy Perry and Modest Mouse.


And we will never ask you if you saw them. Promise.

10 (Random) Things I Want to Remember

29 Apr WP_20140312_015

2013-11-30 06.11.54As this 6-month family sabbatical in Bariloche comes to an end, I am looking through photos tonight. I ran across some random shots of some one-time events and other everyday events, that I hope to remember. I don’t know where to start so I’m just going to go until I get to 10. But I’ll be sure to leave room for Katy Perry.

If I try to make this perfect I’ll never write anything down. So…

1. Kids at Camp

When we got here in November it was springtime and school was just getting out. Good news for the kids. We wanted to get them into camp with other kids and exposed to the language over the summer. So we sent them to two camps. La Semilla (the seed) and Club Pehuenes (like the YMCA). These camps were amazing.

The camps were so relaxed and the kids loved them. At Semilla they played in the forest and when Max got tired he slept in a box. Oh except for one day when Max said “Mama they make us go in the forest and then I don’t know how to play the game so I just have to stand there waiting by myself.”… Though he did love it how they played soccer with him. Next camp! At Club Pehuenes, they swam every day and learned lots of games and songs. One thing we noticed was the affection. Lots of kisses every day. Lots of hugs.

Best counselors ever

Best counselors ever

Mariano y Laura y Sophie

Sophie y Laura y Mariano

Sophie giving besos

Sophie giving besos

We joined the Pehuenes family Gym. Sort of like the YMCA, this camp was help. The kids have had a blast splashing in the pool.

Club Pehuenes

Club Pehuenes

2. Birthday parties!

They are filled with sugar. Sugar and happy noise. It’s quite something. Most of them are held at these birthday party centers. The tables are filled with cookies and cakes and coca cola. Yours for the taking. There are mechanical bulls inside bouncy houses, and big plastic balls into which they insert your children and roll them around. I’ve never seen anything like it.



Sophie y Sarah

Sophie y Sarah: Best buddies

There are also calmer birthdays too. Face paint and games. All of the kids have fun no matter what kind of party. And the very nicest thing? They always invite everyone in the class.

3. Can we talk appliances for a second?

My toaster

This is our toaster. It only took me 4.5 months to get the hang of it. I have it dialed now.

This is our washing machine. It will try to electrocute you if you forget to UNPLUG it before opening it. It would have been awesome if the landlord had told us that BEFORE we tried to use it.

This is our washing machine.

It will try to electrocute you if you forget to UNPLUG it before opening it. It would have been awesome if the landlord had told us that BEFORE we tried to use it.

You open these jaws to insert your laundry.

Simply open these jaws to insert your laundry.

This is our dryer. It's a closet.

This is our dryer.

It’s a closet. No, it’s a dryer. No, it’s a closet…

Th oven. No, no. Of course the pilot light starter thing doesn't work. You have to light it by hand. Lift brick. Light. Burn Forearm hair. Fire goes out. Repeat.

The oven.

No, don’t be silly Annie, the pilot light starter thing doesn’t work. You have to light it by hand. Lift brick. Light. Burn off forearm hair. Fire goes out. Repeat. NOTE: There is a second oven that is used to hold pots and pans. If you breathe near it, it flips open on its own. It’s freaky.

The micro.

The micro.

Stand back. The microwave lights things on fire. And sometimes it just stops… and starts. Use with extreme caution.


This is “our” spice cabinet.

Okay technically, no. Not an appliance. But I wanted to have this on record. It’s locked. It’s cruel because ya see? You can see the spices. But NO SPICES FOR YOU! Note to self: Do not ever do this to your renters.

So, there we have it. Appliances. I will say I’m looking forward to NOT risking electrocution during regular household chores again. But it has been fun to have the experience, thanks.

4. Max learned to read

He learned to read. We are still not sure how, but he did.

He learned to read. We are still not sure how, but he did.

5. Thank you, Ehlenfeldts

EhlenfeldtsIn January, to commemorate the anniversary of the passing of her parents (over 20 years ago now) my friend Dana asked friends to give one small favor to a stranger that day, or find an opportunity to pay it forward somehow. Because her parents, Lynn and Richard, were that kind of people. Rad people.

Lots of people participated! So this is what we got do to in their honor.

We saw a guy with a flat motorcycle tire on the side of the road. At least 7 miles from an open station.

This guy had a flat motorcycle tire on the side of the road, 7 miles from an open station.

It was a sign - it was our chance to help (in honor of Lynn and Dick!)

It was a sign – it was our chance to help in honor of Lynn and Richard.

Hugs and besos para todos.

Hugs and besos para todos.

Thanks, Dana, for the prompt. We’re hoping this is a start of an annual tradition. Finding someone that you can help feels great.

6. Sophie led her first climb

Happy girl. Her first lead climb.

Happy girl. Soph leading her first climb.

7. Horseback riding


The kids went riding for the first time. Had a blast going up Cerro Campanario in Bariloche.

8. My favorite running spot.

I run through the neighborhood (ours is San Ignacio del Cerro) until I meet up with a path where there always seems to be a huge white horse staring at me. Who owns him? No clue. I run through a narrow trail and then pop out near Virgen de las Nieves (Snow) where I always think of my friend Snow, and then head on down the trail that meets the road to Lago Gutierrez, and back. Beautiful.

My favorite run

My favorite run

Lago Gutierrez

Lago Gutierrez

9. Besos! (Kisses)

Everyone kisses everyone here. You kiss to say hello. You kiss to say goodbye. You kiss children. You kiss friends. You kiss your teachers. You kiss your children’s teachers. You kiss the gardener. You kiss his wife and kids that happen to be with him. Men kiss men (at least friends do – in some less social situations there is just hand/arm contact) but the rest of us? Kisses all around! One kiss. Right side to right side.

True. This whole kissing this could take a long time when there are a lot of people involved. But it’s great. And I’m really going to miss it. I mean, it’s a lot harder to be unhappy with someone, anyone, after you’ve just kissed them. Even my doctor gave kisses hello and goodbye. Can you imagine a doctor doing that in the states?

Are you worried about germs? I was too. The interesting thing is that we have been far less sick here than in the states. And I notice a lot fewer sneezing, sniffling people around. Maybe it’s a fluke but in my sample size of one, I don’t think kissing on the cheek leads to huge increases in illness (and I hope they don’t take my MPH away from me for saying that).

My friend Sarah from Eugene, OR, who was here for 3-4 months, said that when she went back to the states she almost kissed he cable guy when he came to the door.

10. Katy Perry: PRISM

Our only CD

Our only CD

Okay, this is not my proudest moment but here it goes. Katy Perry’s Prism CD has been the one and only CD in the car for 6 months. For SIX MONTHS people. I bought it when we arrives here because Sophie missed hearing “Roar” on the radio and I love hearing her sing it – it’s a confident song am I right? Other than that I had no allegiance at all to Ms. Perry. Until now. Now our family, every single one of us, can sing (some more poorly than others) every single WORD of this CD backwards and forwards. This is not something I expected out of this sabbatical. Especially not Katy Perry.

Anyone else familiar with the CD? Okay so not that anyone asked but as a family, a song called Legendary Lovers is the top fave. We each have our own singing parts. Coming in a close second with the kids is Roar, where we all belt out the lyrics as loudly as we can.

Jonah’s a fan of Birthday. No way, really? Said all of Jonah’s friends who don’t know him very well. But I have to vote also for Dark Horse (with a cameo by chap named Juicy J). The best line “Shorty’s heart on steroids, cuz her love so strong”. That is not a typo and no it doesn’t make sense. Why, if her love is already so strong, is her heart also on steroids. It seems he misses the cause and effect relationship. Listen, Jonah and I have been over and over it. This Juicy J person could have had the line make actual real sense in the same number of syllables. But no. No. Sometimes we request complete silence during that line (it’s after 2:17 in case you’re wondering) just to see if maybe we heard it wrong the first 467 times. But no. No.

Apparently, these are the important conversations one has on sabbatical.

There are plenty more things I want to write down before I forget them, but this is already ridiculously long and I should start packing. We head back to Seattle in three days!


Hanging Granny

28 Apr At the Polacos camp in the Torre valley

This post is by Jonah:

When we first moved to Bariloche (wow, 6 months ago already), I immediately started making the rounds of various climbing crags, generally by myself. I was limited to rope-soloing routes (not as dangerous as it sounds) and finding the random person to climb with, but was generally struggling to find any consistent climbing partners for the kind of routes I was hoping to try while we’re here. I was stressed and frustrated because I got it into my head that I had to climb X routes of Y grades while I was here and wasn’t sure how exactly I was going to pull that off without any climbing partners. I was also feeling weak, not having had any gym climbing, training or even bouldering for quite a while. Seek and you shall find…

One morning in mid-December, while again wandering around by myself at Pared Blanca, the home of most of the hard routes in Bariloche (20 minutes from our house) I ran into a couple regulars, Lucas Bonangelino and Luiz “Oso” Izaguirre. Typically Argentine, they were incredibly welcoming and friendly and quickly became my regular climbing partners. Since December, I’ve been meeting at Lucas’ house with Oso and sometimes Santi “Pendex” Cycowski, local 16-year-old wunderkind, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings to climb.

Photo: Campusing at Lucas'

Photo: Campusing at Lucas’

Photo: Lucas the Asadero

Photo: Lucas the Asadero

Photo: Asado at Lucas’ and Annie enjoying her first Morcilla

Photo: Asado at Lucas’ and Annie enjoying her first Morcilla


Lucas has got to be one of the luckiest, happiest and most driven people I’ve met. He designed and built his own house with his wife, Maria, on a hillside in a forest of Coihue trees and has a sport crag with multiple steep (and brutally sandbagged) 5.11s and 5.12s literally in his backyard. It is so close that it is actually easier to run into the house to get a drink of water than it is to carry water to the crag. But that isn’t the crag we go to every week. Instead, after warming up on the outdoor campus board at Lucas’, we usually the whopping five minutes to Pared Blanca (if we don’t go to Morenito or one of the many other crags in the area) with his beautiful chocolate and black labs, Toto and Preta, along with whatever other neighborhood dogs show up, usually a happy mutt named Tatu and an almost morbidly obese dog named Gordo.

Photo: Jesse Huey watersoloing at a crag on Lago Moreno

Photo: Jesse Huey watersoloing at a crag on Lago Moreno

Preta at the base of Pared Blanca, with Tatu and Lucas and Toto looking on

Preta at the base of Pared Blanca, with Tatu and Lucas and Toto looking on


The walk itself is an experience. Leaving Lucas’ driveway, we hop a gate (tranquero), which he assures me is totally legit. The path winds down a hill through the forest into a pasture bordering pristine Laguna Trebol. There seems to be a grazing schedule, but I have no idea what it is. In any case, there are always either 2 or 3 horses or 2 or 3 cows chewing the cud.


Santi talking to horses in the field below Pared Blanca

Invariably, Toto, the chocolate lab and Preta’s son, bolts for the grazing animals, circling and barking. Preta joins the fun, until Lucas calls them back. His version of “Come, Preta, come Toto” involves a string of invective invoking – as most Argentine swearing does – the nether regions and accompanying gastric distress of a third person’s mother and grandmother, who invariably have had a long career in the sex trade. Safely escaping the grazers (but not the dogs who just gorged on their manure), we cross the marsh and head back uphill three minutes to the base of a fantastic white wall.


Panorama of Pared Blanca, with Laguna Trebol below

Panorama of Pared Blanca, with Laguna Trebol below


The days usually involve a quick warmup on a 7a or 7a+, then immediately on to climb as high as possible without a pump (“sin inflado”) on a 25 meter long 7c+ that overhangs about as far as it is high, then on to multiple attempts (for me) on routes between 7c+ and 8a+. Lucas, Oso and Santi tend to stick to laps on some 7cs and 7c+s to warm up and then move into the 8b/8b+ range. They’re climbing beasts, but all the more amazing because they are in their 40s (and teens, in Santi’s case), have real jobs and are just genuinely nice people with lives beyond just climbing.

Fine and good, all this climbing talk, but why is the title of this post “Hanging Granny?” Because everyone here has an apodo, or nickname. They are usually horribly un-PC. As local expat and author James Bracken points out, in his “Che Boludo” (THE dictionary of Argentine slang), “[p]olitical correctness does not exist in Argentina because it would only impede getting your point across . . . no offense is intended, none is taken and there is no false morality to confuse the issues.”

Photo: Oso climbing Obagan

Photo: Oso climbing Obagan, with Lucas attentively belaying while on his cell phone

As far as I know, Oso’s name doesn’t mean anything (other than the obvious, that it means he looks like a bear), but some of the others are striking. There was a group of teenagers at Pared Blanca the other day on vacation from a town north of here. One was of Asian/Italian descent: “Chinito.” Another looked northern European: “Gringo.” A generic nickname for one’s wife is “Gordita” (fatty) or “Negrita” (blackie). Another woman apparently looks vaguely like an ant and so is “La Hormiga,” (Ant) while a climber from the US who visited some time back became La Galleta (Cracker). I originally thought Santi’s nickname, “Pendex,” was a reference to spandex. But he said it’s actually a contraction of pendejo, which in Mexico is an insult and here is word meaning young boy.


The crag is filled with people yelling nicknames at their friends in encouragement. “Venga, Oso!” “Vamos, Pendex, Eh?” “A muerte, Gringo!” (Literally, “To the death,” but it means give it all you’ve got). I got stuck, sadly, with “Abuela.” Grandma. Nothing like people yelling “To the death, Granny!” at you when you’re pumped out of your mind trying to clip or take another 20 foot fall.


To be fair, when I started climbing at Pared Blanca, I did roll with a matronly attitude. The first time I climbed one of the harder routes at the crag I did a bit of whining when I made it through the first crux and clipped the bolt above, only to notice the hanger was bent flat because of all the falls people took on it. Being uninspired to fall, I kept climbing, pretty gripped, into what turned out to be the technical crux above. I barely made it to the next bolt, only to see it physically move in its hole. That bolt was followed by a pumpy runout with big reaches to the anchor. Hmm.


Similarly, on “Calavera no Chilla,” (“Skulls don’t scream”) a pretty hard route (for me) that is my anti-style that I had been trying a ton, the bolt that protects the first crux not only moves in its hole, quite a few of the other bolts have hangers that are dangerously rusty. As in, they truly look like they could break rusty. I tried to replace the crux hanger, but it was so rusted onto the bolt that when I tried to turn the nut the whole bolt spun in the hole. Hmm again.


Photo: Claudio on Calavera No Chilla

Of course, I didn’t hold back on saying that I thought a lot of the fixed gear seemed like a death trap. That kind of whining earned me my wonderful nickname. I’ve never heard a peep out of anyone here that they themselves are worried about the gear, except one time when the carabiners 25 meters up a route – Corsario Negro – were so worn and sharp they could cut the rope if you fell there (I replaced those). If it’s there, they clip it and either take the fall or don’t (well, except Lucas, he just seems to climb anything in his path). As Lucas says, “In South America, we really use up our gear.” A muerte.

Some months back, while failing yet again more because of mental than physical barriers, I made a conscious effort to do the same. Late in January, another gorgeous summer day at the crag, I felt weak, tired, under-rested – I generally had the list of excuses I always use. But there was a ton of great energy at the crag and I made the conscious decision to give ‘er a muerte all day. I didn’t try anything too hard. I went for volume. But I did keep trying while tired, while I was ready to go home, ready to complain about the protection, the fall, whatever.

But heading into evening on the final route, one I had tried and failed to onsight earlier in the day, which I didn’t want to climb, while totally trashed and unable to hold on anymore, looking at climbing into territory with a fall I didn’t want to take, I temporarily dropped the Abuela baggage. I knew I was going to take a kind of unpleasant, long and awkward fall, but still managed to climb out of my comfort zone, at least for those few minutes. I was more surprised than anyone when I ended up not falling, but actually sending the route. It wasn’t a hard one, in the global scheme of things. And, rationally speaking, it wasn’t actually dangerous. The bolts were good and the fall I didn’t want to take, although long, was pure air because the wall is so overhanging. But it was liberating to let go of worrying about those things for a bit and get on with enjoying trying hard.


The day ended with a dusty ride back to the road in the bed of a pickup with two climbers, two dogs and a chainsaw, followed by a packed bus ride and drinks on the beach with Annie, Sophie and Max, then massive amounts of steak at Boliche del Alberto, one of our favorite parillas.

Photo: Annie, Max and Sophie at cocktail hour on the beach at Camping Petunia

Photo: Annie, Max and Sophie at cocktail hour on the beach at Camping Petunia


I think a lot of my efforts to stop being Abuela actually come from Lucas, who gave me the nickname in the first place. He’s a relentlessly positive, motivating person to climb with. If you look like you’re about to just let go to take a smaller fall rather than try harder, higher and take a bigger one, he screams at you and seems genuinely disappointed if you’re not giving your all. He is motivated himself to try a climb one more time, when the sun is going down and he motivates me to do the same. Now, if I could just climb 8c like he does…


Of course, I haven’t ignored the risks of climbing in Argentina. Especially our trip to Chalten, which was amazing and profound on a lot of levels, did a lot to reset my risk calculus. But it also made the perceived risks of Argentine sport climbing a lot more manageable. That, and Lincoln gave Andy Wyatt a drill, bolts and a bunch of hangers to bring down, which I have used to replace the gear that I think is bad at Pared Blanca (despite some protests that it’s just fine).

Photo: At the Polacos camp in the Torre valley

Photo: At the Polacos camp in the Torre valley

Photo: Andy Wyatt on the ridge between Aguja de L'S and Aguja Poincenot

Photo: Andy Wyatt on the ridge between Aguja de L’S and Aguja Poincenot


But I have started trying to focus on enjoying falling, failing and letting go. Just that mindset has totally changed the way I look at given climbs, at the tension and pressure I feel about trying one more time, when I don’t want to, when I’m tired, when I’m pretty sure I’m going to fail. Somewhere along the way, with my increased number of big wingers (and the accompanying questions from Oso when he is belaying about whether I’ve put on weight) – “Cuantos kilos tenes?? NO podes tener solamente 70!” it seems the Abuela moniker changed slightly to Abuela Colgada – Hanging Granny – as in dangling from the end of the rope after yet another fall.

Photo: Hanging Granny (abuela) falling

Photo: Hanging Granny (abuela) falling


Whether that apodo/nickname is an upgrade or not is an open question. But to me, if I’m an Abuela Colgada because I’m spending more of my time flying off of routes while trying a muerte, that’s a good thing. A week before my 41st birthday here, on a cold Sunday, when my hands were numb and I wasn’t really feeling it, on my third attempt of the day, I hopped back on Chimichanga, the route with the loose bolts that had spooked me so much when I first came here. The holds hadn’t gotten better; the bolts were the same (though tightened and with brand new hangers – thanks Andy and Lincoln). But with some screams of “Venga Abuela,” from below, some elvis-legging and a lot of screaming of my own, I made it through the final crux for the first time, climbed past the rattly old bolt that had worried me so much when I first got here, and barely grabbed the victory jug at the top of the route.


Who knows how long that mindset will last when I get back stateside, at least with climbing. My experience has been that being willing to fall is the single most important factor in climbing, and having that willingness to fall ain’t like riding a bike. If you stop willingly falling a lot, it gets hard and scary again. But I am hoping I can translate some of the other lessons to other parts of my life and they’ll have some staying power. Now I just need to figure out what those lessons are. There has to be a deeper meaning than just dangling on a rope off a piece of rock….

What’s Your Favorite Word?

23 Apr Words. What's your favorite?
Words. What's your favorite?

Words. What’s your favorite?

Sophie (7): Mom, I love the word equivoqué, don’t you? (But the way she pronounced it was “ki-bu-KAY”. She skipped the “eh” sound at the beginning and it reminded me of that trendy drink with the slimy sludge on the bottom. Kombucha or whatever.)

Me: Ki-bu-KAY? that depends, Soph. What does it mean? (Because truly I had no clue).

Sophie: It means I was wrong. Like, I made a mistake or I said something wrong. I like the way it sounds. I like what it means. I like everything about it. Don’t you?

So that led to a conversation about what words we love in Castellano/Spanish.

“I like the way it sounds.
I like what it means.
I like everything about it.
Don’t you?”

 Here are our 4 favorite words in Castellano/Spanish. We’d love to hear yours… in any language!

SOPHIE’S: Me equivoqué. That is the word she meant to say. She thought it was “me_ki-bu-KAY” but really *I think* it is pronounced me eh-kee-bu-KAY. It means “I was wrong”.

ANNIE’S: Desencuentro. It means… well okay so there is no word for it in English. That’s why I love it.  It means loosely “mis-meeting” or a “meeting that failed”. Like when you are waiting for someone on the third floor at the same time that they are waiting for you on the second floor. There is a romance about it, with a hint of unrequited love. Sold.

It was a "quilombo" to get the package at the post office.

Next! It was a “quilombo” to get the package at the post office.

JONAH’S: Quilombo. It means a messy situation. Like when your landlord tells you the rental house will cost a certain amount and then tells you later, that it really costs a lot more, and then you freak out, so she gets frustrated and then she tells you her house is basically like living in the Hamptons when it’s actually like the house from the Money Pit movie. And then she says you also need to take of her sick cat that screams at night. Oh, and when you leave for a month and the house-sitter she hired to take care of her house forgets to water her plants and they all die and she thinks you did it. That, is a “quilombo”. Oh. Well… it has two meanings. It also means whorehouse.

Yep. Whorehouse.

MAX’S: Boca. Okay yes it means mouth, but that’s not why he loves it. “Boca” is also Argentina’s best futbol team (don’t argue with the man) . Boca Juniors or the full name CABJ, which stands for Club Atletico Boca Juniors.

Club Atletico Boca Juniors! ("Boca")

Club Atletico Boca Juniors or just “Boca”

Max cheering for Boca.

Max cheering for Boca during a Superclasico match between Boca and their arch rival River Plate

All this word-talk makes me feel for our friend Mo, who works as a translator here translating text from Spanish to English. What does she do when no word exists that means what she the author intended to say? What does she do with DESENCUENTRO?! Anyway, hats off to Mo and translators everywhere.

I’m taking one final week of Spanish classes here. One last push. Hoping by some miracle that I will finally speak coherent Spanish that people will understand before I leave – less than 2 weeks from today.

The kids, however, are doing amazingly well. They speak to each other in Spanish sometimes. I love it. I just wish I knew what they were saying.



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