Z – Zen

 April 30 – Z – Zen

April’s A to Z Blogging Challenge

I find myself often using the phrase “This is so zen” or “I feel so zen”.  Buddhists would chastise me, I’m sure, for negligently and ignorantly using this phrase, and I fully admit that I really don’t understand the meditative or religious depths of the word.  I use it when I feel ease, flow, focus, calm, peace, bliss, and enjoyment – many experiences that I have in Argentina leave me often afloat in this feeling, this zen.  And I like it!  Now I haven’t found the art of meditation, but I have found the art of being, living and loving it.   

When I see so many friends doing the #100happydays challenge, I feel saddened by it actually because I know that in the chaos of my real life in Canada with commutes, weather, stress, no sleep, demands, etc., that I too need to be mindful to stay focused on being happy. Then, I will likely sign myself up for it so that I manage to maintain and recapture this Zen state that I generally live in while living in Argentina.  Now don’t get me wrong it isn’t all zen living – there are definitely challenges, frustrations, and fears – such as driving around the city (a harrowing daily experience of survival).  But generally I have found the zen from hanging the wash to dry in the sun to the writing of these blogs!

One thing that I’ve learned is that I’m truly an introvert.  All personality quizzes always label me as such, but generally no one believes me.  However, I savour the solitude and when know social time is coming I need to gulp away the anxiety, even though I truly love the warmth and love from friends and family time while here.  I find that zen state of being when I get to be just quiet and alone through the days, and these solitudes have reinvigorated my soul and spirit.

Walking along the costanera in the mornings.

When I walk down the Costanera in the mornings, I feel such a blessing is bestowed on me.  The sun is usually warming my skin, the light wind whispers through the palm trees, the green parrots squawk in the eucalyptus trees, the sweet smell of cedar lines the fences of the tennis club, the stray dogs run along side me for a few hundred yards after I tell them they’re good dogs, the fallen flowers and leaves from the trees canopy across the walkway, and the water of the lagoon laps the camalote along the beach.   There are a few people taking in this delightfully zen time and activity, but I am usually alone in this venture and I do enjoy it.

Camalotes along the coast!

Rarely in my adult life have I engaged in much of a daily walking habit, and I know this opportunity to do so, along the coast, is fleeting, so I enjoy this paradise many mornings, and sometimes in the afternoon or evening.  I enjoy the peace of solitude mixed with the energy of walking.

My favourite reading and journaling spot - when the mosquitos aren't biting!

My favourite reading and journaling spot – when the mosquitos aren’t biting!

I also find my zen in the solitudes of sitting on my patio or in my home just reading.  I have been given the rare gift of time and I am using it well.  I’ve engaged with some great stories from Calvino, Ocampo, Garcia-Marguez, Mankell, Lindhout, and countless others.  I’ve also loved being able to have the time to read professionally from Kittle, Lehman and Roberts, to Romano, Hicks, Burke and Gallagher, as well I’ve done some great PD in terms of Quantum Learning to improve my teaching in the fall.  I also have read so many blogs and news articles from inspiring writers (including a former student) and educators.  My Flipboard on my ipad is well swiped with readings from Canadian news agencies, Argentinian news,  The New Yorker, The Atlantic, etc….  I’m always reading something that launches my imagination into the time travel of various places and time periods, as well as pieces that enlighten my mind.

Writing has been so much easier than I had expected and I feel the enjoyment of “flow” as my thoughts fire onto the page – whether it is in my journals or my computer.  Initially, I struggled to take the time to do it and was often struck with the silences in my head, which was fine too, but I’ve come to enjoy the habit of writing, especially blogs, thanks to this A to Z Challenge that comes to a close today. But has fuelled my fingers on the keyboard, so I’ll keep at it, just not daily.  I have also been writing for my professional blog thehunni with the Blog A Month Challenge – although I have yet to post April’s blog, but that’s okay because I refuse to give into any type of stress, as all good things will get done when they do!  Thirdly, I’ve been participating in a writing course with my neighbour who is a retired literature teacher; it is at the Catholic University that is merely three blocks down my street – hopefully this work will result in a short story before I leave, but for now has offered some expository writing about my name – this work will be posted on thehunni when it is completed, in both English and Spanish – gulp!  Finally, I’m doing a MOOC (massive open online course) through Coursera that deals with “Achieving Expertise” with professional writing.  So writing abounds, but as I said, it flows.  It is freedom to finally feel the weights in my brain find voice onto the page – and that brings the bliss of zen from process to product!

My first attempt at a painting.

My first attempt at a painting.

Time has also helped me find the zen of yoga twice a week in the mornings, as I mentioned in the last blog, and the zen painting two other mornings a week.  I have never in my life painted a picture, beyond childhood play.  I am a sincere lover of art and love going to museums, and I am always envious of those who achieve bliss via the brush, but now I too have come to discover this bliss.  I would never say I’m all that talented, but I sure do enjoy the process, and have surprised myself that I’m not as bad as I had condemned of myself all these years.  Finding the bliss in the brush has been a gift!

However, zen has also smiled upon me as I get to just be a wife and mom!  I love being with these really cool kids and my wonderful husband.  We’ve always been a tight family, but this journey has brought us even closer.  I just enjoy being with my family.  The other day the kids and I were all sitting on the patio reading together – heaven – ZEN!  But I also love the small things of tidying up, cooking recipes I’ve never tried before, and I really feel that hanging laundry on the line is just one of the most zen things to do as the sun kisses down on the laundry patio (yes, there is a separate house for lanudry and hanging at the back of the yard) and the space is fragrant with fresh

linen and honeysuckle vines that wave in the wind.

Alas, I have come to love this experience where zen came to me in Argentina, when I stopped and found joy in the simplicity and creativity of life; next, I just need to maintain my zens when I return to reality in a mere few months!

Y – Yoga

April 29 – Y – Yoga

April’s A to Z Blogging Challenge

Here in Santa Fe, the city offers FREE exercise programming right at the beautiful Costanera with views of the water.  So a couple times a week I go to my free Yoga class in the morning from 9am to 10:30am.  It is a beautifully relaxing and balancing class.  It is in Spanish, but the teacher is amazing!  She is structured, clear, and knows how to offer feedback and support, even though our languages are different.  I’ve learned the routines, generally, and I am confident to participate despite my limited experience with Yoga.

Here is the little hut that houses these sport activities:

See all the this city offers for FREE to the residents of the city (and tourists too): Sports at the Costanera

Free exercise in Santa Fe!

X – Xocolatl Chocolate!

As you can tell, if you read my last blog on Wine, chocolate is another major LOVE in my life!  So, in this A to Z Challenge for my time here abroad in Argentina, I was a bit concerned about the dreaded “X” for an X word!  But to my delight I saw this sign at the Neochea Cafe while riding the bus to the downtown:

Now, I cannot say that I’ve yet indulged in this delight, but I will be sure to do so ASAP and I’ll update this blog accordingly!

International Women's Day - Breakfast Celebration at Neochea Cafe!

International Women’s Day – Breakfast Celebration at Neochea Cafe!

For now, I can say that I’ve been to the Neochea Cafe on the Boulevard for ice cream treats and cafe on a few occasions – two other indulgences I love!  In fact, on International Women’s Day I went here with my Mami (mother-in-law), Tia (Aunt) Adriana, and a friend of Tia’s for a breakfast celebration.  That day I enjoyed their delightful coffee with two medialunas (croissants).

Now regarding their artisanal chocolate – I will soon try these.  Essentially, Xocolatl is an Aztec word meaning “bitter waters” and is pronounced with the “X” as a “sh” sound – see this LINK for its pronunciation. It was treasured by the Emperor Montezuma.  

“The divine drink, which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink permits a man to walk for a whole day without food.”

The Neochea Cafe website says the following about their chocolates:

Xocolatl Necochea, collection of chocolates.
Chocolates whose flavor comes from careful selection of fine cocoa beans from Ecuador and Puratos developed by Belgium in their semi-sweet and white variants, milk. Cocoa occupies 71% of the raw material of this product tranformándolo in comparative advantage, and so emerge tasting nuances of flowers and a subtle reminiscence ground.

“As always we make a difference”
Developing filled bonbons and chocolates in flavors of almonds, walnuts, figs, chestnuts, cherries, caramel, hazelnut ganache, orange peels, pistachios crispy mint rhum and a variety of flavors every week elaborate for you.

I cannot finish this blog without this digression.  The word Xocolatl became more familiar to me when I learned of the murder in Costa Rica of a family friend from my childhood – Kim Blackwell (click to read the article about her murder).  She lived the life of a free spirit and had begun an Organic Chocolate business in Costa Rica named Samaritan Xocolata.  So if you are ever in Costa Rica, be sure to try out Kim’s legacy.

Kim Blackwell’s Samaritan Xocolata



W – Wine (Vino in Spanish)

April 26 – W – Wine (Vino)

Ah, yes, at last the wine blog!  There has been a long-standing joke that I like my man like I like my coffee, chocolate, and wine: strong and dark – rich would be nice too!  These are my favourite indulgences in life and all I have managed to incorporate into my A to Z Blogging Challenge.  Basically, how can I not love being in Argentina when life abounds with these great loves!

For a long while now, before meeting my beloved Argentinian hubby, I have been a huge fan of Argentinian Malbec – well before it was on the Canadian radar and was dirt cheap.  Back then there was no “Argentina” section in the New World area of the wine store, only “Chile” had a small section on the shelf.  I did enjoy Chilean wine, so one day I stumbled on an Argentinian Malbec in the mix.  And I was hooked!   Given its delicious wealth of flavour, I would pick it up on every occasion that required a wine and soon enough all my friends were grabbing it too.  I like to think that I was an essential part of popularizing the Malbec in Canada.  😉

Essentially, Malbec grapes originated from France more than 150 years ago.  A Malbec is a strong, robust wine that denotes fruity flavours from black cherry, raspberry, plums and blackberries with hits of cocoa, coffee, violet flowers, and sometimes a bit of a peppery bite.  Of course I’ll drink it with anything, but it is particularly pleasing when paired with our famous Argentinian beef asados!

My dream meandering wine tour starting in the south, moving northwards!

Now, for the lover that I am of wine, I have never been on a wine tour despite the fact that on many occasions I have been so near!  Not in Niagara or Point Pelee of Ontario, nor the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, nor the Sonoma Valley near San Francisco, and when in France I was too young, and certainly never in Argentina, although I so desperately want to go! In fact, I’d love a meandering tour that travels the wineries from the South to the North, more than 600 miles of wine country to enjoy!  Here’s my basic itinerary with the Malbecs that I love best from each area (the links are to summaries of each wine and to the winery) and this site Malbec Symphony is a great resources for touring about too:

  • Rio Negro High Valley = Marcus Gran Reserve  
  • This wine is from the winery Humberto Canale and is a beautifully smooth and strong wine.  I can’t really afford this one, but a sale in pesos made me try it out once!  It is delicious and desired!
  • – A side note, I’ve always desired to try the Malbec from Bodega Noemía de Patagonia, but I don’t believe that I’ll ever try a $150 bottle of wine!
  • Patagonia’s Rio Neuguen Valley = SAURUS 
  • This wine is from the winery the Familia Schroeder and the family named this wine Saurus for when they were constructing the winery they discovered dinosaur bones!  There is magic in these fields and it results in a heavenly flavour! This is one wine that  I have local wine stores in Calgary hunt down for me.
  • San Juan – oh how I’ve come to love the San Juan region for wines! = Garaffigna Centenario Malbec
    • Garaffigna is a winery that I’m so longing to visit as the wine is a favourite!

You know when you have those fantasies of  paths not taken from “your other life”, well being a sommelier/vineyard owner and really knowing wine is something I fantasize about.  At some point, I’ll take it on as a serious hobby.  I like to think that someday I would own a really funky cafe filled with books, art, and music and we’d serve delicious gourmet food and desserts, chic coffees, and fine wines!  I’d model my cafe after this feast for the senses, Casa Margot!  Although Casa Margot focuses on Champagne – I don’t care, as I too love champagne and the place itself looks divine!   

Well, the dreaming will continue.  In the meantime, a toast with a fine Emilia Malbec – “ching ching” as they say in Argentina!

The look of my fantasy cafe/wine bar – modelled on Casa Margot in Mendoza!

A view of my fantasy cafe/wine bar – modelled on the beautiful Casa Margot in Mendoza!Well, enough about my fantasies, let’s get onto what I do enjoy about Malbec wines and what are some of my favourites.

U – UNL (Universidad Nacional del Litoral)

April 24 – U – Universidad Nacional del Litoral

April’s A to Z Blogging Challenge

The main Administration building and Law faculty.

Our journey to Argentina came to be because UNL was interested in Cristian – my hubby extraordinaire math geek –  doing research here in Santa Fe, his hometown, and the University where he studied before moving to the USA to pursue his PD.D..  Given that Cristian had a sabbatical (once every six years) from his teaching position at the University of Calgary, it seemed that the stars were aligning!  I took my leave of absence, we rented our home, we packed up, and came to Santa Fe for this journey.  

IMAL – Institute of Mathematics

Cristian has been enjoying working with the incredibly inspiring and intelligent math team here at UNL.  He is working hard on his research, on teaching an advanced level course, and in participating in collegial professional development.  He works at the IMAL – Institute of Mathematics – and CONICET (Science and Tech research) in a newly constructed building by the coast.  UNL is a university with various building locations all across the city; he happens to be across the bridge, near the coast.  He is very much enjoying this opportunity.

The children’s school – UNL Primary Level.

Being with the university has connected us with the elementary school for the kids.  I think it is similar to the idea of Charter schools, like the one I work for in Alberta.  It is a public school, but the students are the kids of employees of the University.   It is located at a downtown location in a building they’ve modernized and are continuing to add to as they are growing each year – now having a Grade 8 group.  It is different in that school is from 8-3 (rather than 7:30-12:30 like regular schools), and it offers hot lunches, guitar class, music, art, plus two hours a day the students study English.  So although my kids are struggling with Spanish, the experience has been wonderful!

Also, being part of the university, the kids experience physical education for four hours, once a week, at PREDIO, which is a fitness centre for the University.  It is at a different location than the school, so they are bussed, which is another adventure for the kids.


All in all, my family owes many thanks to the UNL for such a wonderful experience and opportunity while we’ve been here.

T – Teatro

April 25 – T – Teatro

April’s A to Z Blogging Challenge

This is a bucket list item – something I need to do more of while here in Argentina!  I love the theatre and have my first uni degree as a concentration in theatre, and my world in Calgary is filled with being involved with the drama and musical theatre at school.  But while here, I’ve failed my intended pursuit to see theatre and music, and have two months to make it up!

In the past visits we’ve been out to hear music in theatrical venues and stages, and we have seen one or two shows at some point.  But not knowing the language challenges the comprehension of a play.  DSCN6898

Tango in La Boca

Tango in La Boca

This time here, while in Buenos Aires, we went to see Tango on the streets of La Boca!  It was a beautifully “real” experience – environmental theatre style!  We also went to El Ateno Bookstore which has maintained the beautiful setting of its former theatre!  In Santa Fe we have seen Flamenco music and dancing under the stars.  And in Parana we found the anfiteatro – a gorgeous stone amphitheatre complete with moat where I imagine the best productions of Shakespeare should take place on this stage! Last time we were here, one of my favourite nights out was when we saw two performances of music in one evening.  The first was in a converted house, into a small theatre space where two gents played guitars and crooned!  The second was a Cuban troubadour who enchanted us with his story-telling charm in his singing!  DSCN6690

So, seeing more theatre and music is the plan for May!


S – Siesta

April 22 – S – Siesta (that’s nap-time)

April’s A to Z Blogging Challenge

It is 1pm and as we approach the grocery store to pick up food for lunch, the doors close for siesta.  The same thing occurs all along the block – some stores have been closed since noon and some will offer a half hour more to indulge those of us who have come for last minute shopping. But shortly all stores will be dark, curtains will be drawn, and a hush will fall over the busy metropolis of Santa Fe.

Most schools have released students for the day, although some will return for electives after 4pm.  Students will go to school from 7:30-noon, although our kids are in a program that is run on a North American model from 8am-3pm.  This pick up time to get my kids seriously cuts into my siesta time!!!  Ah – my rough life!  

The siesta has  been a very easy custom to adopt.  I thought that my workaholic nature would reject the lazy hazy snoring my way through an afternoon lifestyle, but no, I adapted very quickly!  I’m resilient that way.  Now, to be honest, not all days do I fall into a sweet slumber, but I still enjoy the quietude of the afternoon that expects nothing more from me than to lay back reading or sleeping.

Of course, the challenge exists for us because our kids end school during siesta time!  So when we get them, there are very few stores or cafes open if we need them.  And the re-opening time is uncertain and different place to place, but generally by 4:30pm most shops will reopen and the city stretches itself into the awakening afternoon.  Businesses  and professions often reopen into the evening.

The siesta time is also a dangerous time in Santa Fe these days because as the world closes its eyes, crime increases!  So again, we need to be very wary and careful when running out to pick up the kids.

Essentially, I prefer the days with no school pick-up so that I can wile away the afternoon indulging my coveted siesta time!

My view upon waking from siesta!

My view upon waking from siesta!

Without neither guilt nor guile, the siesta is a mainstay in my life for now on!  This is a South American custom that I whole-heartedly embrace.  There are heaps of studies out there – I did read them – that tell us that this precious siesta is not about being lazy, rather it is a time for recharging the brain.  It is a tested and true model for body and brain health and wellness.

Now, I know this will be a challenge to adopt with my hairy workstyle as a teacher, but even if I can sneak one in here or there after school, I know it will be better for the productivity of my brain.

R – Rio (RIVER)

April 21 – R – Rio (Spanish for River)

April’s A to Z Blogging Challenge

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.  I am haunted by waters.”  Norman Maclean ~ A River Runs Through It

The Parana River

The Parana River

In my youth I was held captive by the river world of Tom and Huck hiding out on the Mississippi River.  Twain stole my innocence as he made me long to be a runaway with the lads, exploring the mysteries of the river that moved through places and time.  Such a grand serpentine waterway was elusive, haunting, unpredictable, and ever-changing; best of all, it would transport me into unknown territories to fuel my desire for wanderlust, wonder and adventure.

Trout Lake from North Bay, Ontario

I sought such an escape, satisfyingly so, in the creeks, ponds, and lakes of my own hometown in North Bay, Ontario, which at the time seemed to lack the grandeur of the Mississippi, but pacified my wanderlust enough to make me feel that my waters were mysterious enough, and in truth was happy that my waters were not nearly so murky or dangerous as the mighty Mississippi.  Ever since those days of escape into the water – both in my imagination and my play – I have been spiritually beguiled and enraptured with the nature of water.

I must admit that as an adult I have always longed to return to the wilds of youth, on and in the water, particularly the familiarity of my fresh waters from Trout Lake and Lake Nipissing; longingly reminiscing about the idylls of those lost childhood days.  Finding myself always near rivers, but never near my childhood lakes, I felt cheated in life because the river just wasn’t filling my soul the way a lake would.  The foreign allure of Twain’s Mississippi had been lost and my heart sought the greener grasses, or rather that deep blue freshness, of northern Ontario delights.

My students in Calgary - creative writing along the Bow River

My students in Calgary – creative writing along the Bow River

That was until my imagination was reignited this past year with my wanderings, initially to the Bow River in Calgary and now to the river delta of Argentina.  In Calgary, the floods of June 2013 took a surreal reckoning against the landscape and the city; the gentle glacier river had resounded it thunderous roar and became a force to remind us of its power and presence.  Through the summer and into the fall I witnessed the transformative potency of these waters that raged in my city, in both the landscape and my spiritual perspective.  In the autumn I took my creative writing class to the river each week for River Writing, a whim that became a powerful entity in our writings and in our creative spirits.  We all became spellbound in appreciation for the beauty of this life-surging vein of nature.

The beauty of the Parana River.

The beauty of the Parana River.

Now that the river spirit is imbued within me, I have come to have a whole new respect, love, and awe for rivers, and that has transformed my experience in the landscapes of Santa Fe, Argentina during this journey of living abroad.  In the past I had viewed, and I am ashamed to admit, the tangled web of streams, ponds, lagoons, small and large rivers of these Pampa plains as a cluster of murky, mosquito-infested swampland.  But the magic of Twain’s river world is renewed within me, and I now see in these South American waters a thriving eco-system that is purposeful, mysterious, savage, and so beautiful!

Walking along the Costanera in Santa Fe.

Walking along the Costanera in Santa Fe.

I love that as I walk daily along the Costanera that I get to see the humble fishermen out in the lagoon rowing into the centre and capturing the most delightfully mild river fish.  Other days I see the sailors and kayakers challenging the power of the wind as the river carries them downstream with such power.  And as I wrote about in my K post, the thrill of kitesurfing where the water and the wind meet with an awe-inspiring sport.  We have tasted the finest fish dishes in Vuelta del Pirata in the heart of the river delta, we have boated on her waters, and we have meandered alongside various tributaries. This is a land where people depend on the rivers, love the rivers, and know how to play on the rivers.

The Santa Fe river.

The Santa Fe river.

No matter where we go in the region, this river system (second largest in South America next to the Amazon) that originates in the tropics of Brazil prevails as the constant interplay between civilization and nature plays out its fate.  Just this summer, on Christmas Day, the weather was one of the hottest of summers on record and these tropical waters became infested with palometa piranhas – a flesh-eating fish – that attacked over 70 people along the Parana River in Rosario, a city just two hours south of Santa Fe.  Some people lost fingers and toes in the attack.  However, this is not a normal experience here, but that fact didn’t ebb my horror-movie fears of the potential dangers of the waters.   There is also an old story of a jaguar (from the early 19th century) that washed ashore in a flood and killed a monk in the sacristy – the claw marks on the alter remain in the church museum today. DSCN7493

Santa Fe too is no stranger to the floods that shocked the Canadian west last year.  Living in a tropical floodplain makes you far more experienced with the deadly power of the rivers, as is seen in these satellite photos below where you can see how the water permeates the land so easily.  With the torrential rains of March, we too have witnessed the swollen waterways that penetrate into the landscape, overtaking humans attempt to live and play alongside it – but here it is just another way in the life of a city that encroaches on such a water-permeated landscape; cyclicly the river will always reclaim its supremacy.


The photo above is taken in April 2007 after the late summer rains, compared to the dry time in January of 2007.

Just as river claims its place in nature, it too lays claim within me.  What began as childhood play in the forest creeks behind my home, evolved in a Twain-like adolescent escape into the lakes that abound in and around my hometown, and devolved into a  romanticized Twainish gypsy-like wanderlust to various city rivers  – from Ottawa, to Stratford, to Kitchener, then onto Hartford, and now Calgary and Santa Fe – with each waterway attempting to wash me onto its shores and claim its place as my home waters.  I have travelled these rivers across the various landscapes and I believe I have found the shores of the Bow in Calgary and the Parana with the Setubal Lagoon in Santa Fe as my new home waters, a place where I’m feeling my roots embedding in the soils of these ancient and majestic rivers, roots that parallel the ones I sowed in the lake beds of North Bay. DSCN7506

Whether in the tropical rios of Argentina, or the glacier rivers of the Rocky Mountains, or the land of the lakes in North Ontario, I’m humbled and grateful to be imbrued in my life by such beautiful natural environments that abound with fresh waters that have carved out their existence well before and well after mine, but have permitted me a time, a place, and spirit alongside them while I am here.



My lil' family enjoying a cruise on the Santa Fe rivers!

My lil’ family enjoying a cruise on the Santa Fe rivers!

Luca - My own lil' Tom Sawyer!

Luca – My own lil’ Tom Sawyer!

Tulia - My lil' wild woman of the waters.

Tulia – My lil’ wild woman of the waters.

Q – Quilla y Quaker

April 19 – Q – Quilla y Quaker

(for Turron de Quaker)

April’s A to Z Blogging Challenge

Turron de Quaker 

This is easily one of our favourite treats, yet it is ridiculously simple in ingredients: cocoa powder (the brand name El Quilla), oats (Quaker), heaps of butter, milk, sugar, and criollitas crackers (similar to soda crackers).  This recipe is written about best (and in English) at this blog site: FROM ARGENTINA WITH LOVE.  Basically, you heat up the chocolate and oat mixture on the stove top, then you layer crackers and melted chocolate oat concoction as if you were laying bricks – then freeze!

Around here it never lasts very long because it is like crack, and you just can’t stop at one, and given the copious amounts of butter in it, we know better than to make it too often!


Cocoa Powder