Bravery comes in all sizes

This brave boy right here.

I sometimes sit in awe of the things this brave boy can do. Especially on this day. This day when he steps with boldness, and fragility, into Kindergarten.

In a school he’s seen once.
With a teacher and classmates who speak a different language.
In the pouring rain armed only with his rain pants and jacket, and his mom’s faltering optimism.

One final chipper “goodbye” peeps above the noisy hubbub of parents and rain boots and heavy drops rattling the tin roof cover. I can’t tell if it’s sincere or not. If he’s slipping into the brave act he’s seen his mama perform 100 times over the years, or if the excitement is genuine.

Oh how I pray it’s genuine.
And I hate that it’s raining because that makes everything more messy and confusing. But I am also grateful that the rain covers my tears.

Because mom can’t understand the teacher either. Because even teachers feel anxious on the first day, no matter how many times they’ve done it. Because there’s so much unknown — and no way to know it without having the words to ask…

How do you send your 5 year old into that alone?

Except that 5 year olds are often way better at handling “unknown” than 36 year olds are. The 36 year old is merely better at hiding their real emotions when the unknown becomes too much to bear.

5 year olds are professional not-knowers.
Especially this five year old, who marches into his 4th school in 3 countries. He is scoping out the toys and the bathroom. Mama is scoping out his heart and her own – a far murkier task to undertake.

And so begins a new chapter of independence and uncertainty and eventually wild, wonderful joy.

But God hold us close in these first weeks — all of us.
The dad who wants to fix things, eyes always scanning the scene.
The mama who wants to know more than she can, heart breaking under the weight of her inadequacy.
The little brother who was carried away a pile of heaving sobs because he can’t go too.

And the brave boy who stands on the edge of newness – and puts on his rain boots so he can meet it head on.

Heart, you better put your rain boots on too. You’re gonna need them.


Over the Rivers and Through the Lakes: summer in southern Chile

Our first summer in Chile is coming to a close.  Lucas begins kindergarten on Monday, we move into our long-term house a week after that, and with those milestones we will see this experience transform from novelty to reality.  From whimsy to normalcy.

And that is not a negative thing.  In fact, the normalcy is what we are longing for and why we’ve come all this way.  The normalcy is the main event.


Our patented Bartell belief system is that if you are going to go through the trouble to relocate to a new continent, you had better make the most of it!  We moved to Hong Kong and, over four years, had the pleasure of visiting 12 different SE Asian countries… most of them more than once.

This time the country we are IN is *quite* a bit larger than Hong Kong… so our immediate goal isn’t to play “collect the countries,” but rather to dive in deeply and richly innto where we’re at.  We want to know Chile – top to bottom.

And so this summer, amidst the chaos of all the newness, we started inching our way through by exploring close to home:

  • Region IX: Araucanía (the region in which we live)
  • Region X: Los Lagos (Puerto Varas and Frutillar)
  • Region XIV: Los Rios (Valdivia)


Region IX:  Araucanía

Pucón resides in this region so we are getting to know Region IX intimately on a daily basis.  It’s categorized by mountains, waterfalls, and lush forests, as well as geothermal activity from various volcanoes, namely our own – Volcan Villarrica)

This region is a hot spot for summer travel in Chile, so the end of January and February was a bit of a zoo — but by March everyone goes home, giving locals a chance to enjoy the “sweet spot” of beautiful weather and quiet roads.  If anyone wants to come and visit — I HIGHLY recommend December or March.  Both have proven delightful.

Our getaway in this region is up to our own land, “Quililche.”  As the crow flies “Q” is only about 15 minutes away, but we land-dwellers have to traverse 40 kilometers of gravel mountain roads… making the journey more like 2 hours.  Even so, the reward for your endeavoring is great.

Quililche is nestled right beside two major national parks — so everything is pristine and the solitude is magnificent.  Additionally, we have ancient forests of towering Beech and Araucaría trees that will blow your mind.


Really and truly, all are invited to come with us to this magical place.  You really do have to see it for yourself to appreciate the beauty of it.  We’ll take you for a dip in a hot spring to reward your aching muscles after that long flight.  😉


Region X: Los Lagos

Another summer adventure took us to the region of Los Lagos.  For simplicity, I’m going to categorize Los Lagos as anything we saw in or around Lago Llanquihue.  Recently my best friend let me know that the Star Tribune in Minnesota highlighted this region in a travel section feature article!  And rightfully so.  This region is STUNNING.  Rolling hills, hay fields, grazing pastures, and quaint German-immigrant inspired houses dot the land.  It really feels like traveling to rural Germany… except for, you know, the giant, snow-capped volcanoes.


We spent two days taking the scenic route around Lago Llanquihue, hiking a small bit of Vicente Perez Rosales National Park, and exploring the town of Puerto Varas.  And after a month being immersed in Pucón’s rustic mountain scene, the Germanic tidiness of these towns provided a nice change of pace.

The mom in me has to give a major shout-out to Vicente Perez Rosales National Park.  It’s an easy, beautiful little drive from Puerto Varas, that is paved and well-marked.  Also, we appreciated that you can access the gorgeous Petrohue Falls immediately after entering the park.  I mean, this really is nature’s doing, not the park — but we appreciated it all the same.  We travel with wee ones.  We tend to like our adventures completed before nap time.

The town of Puerto Varas is absolutely worth another visit.  We loved their waterfront walk area and the central downtown Plaza de Armas.  The town has nice artistic touches and felt comfortable throughout, even once you got off the beaten path a bit.

And Frutillar?  Stop it.  This is one of the quaintest lakefront towns I have ever seen.  It was like stepping into a Swiss postcard.  We are excited to go back next summer and spend an overnight there so we can linger a bit longer in that space.



Region XIV:  Los Rios

Don’t be fooled by the number, this little region is actually tucked between Regions IX and X.  Traveling down Ruta 5, Chile’s major tollway, you immediately know you’ve hit it because there are all sorts of beautiful vistas to enjoy as you pass over a multitude of bridges.

We haven’t delved deeply into this region yet, but as our next door neighbor it’s bound to be visited frequently.  Instead, we set our sights on the town of Valdivia and it’s tiny coastal neighbor, Niebla.


Chile’s skinny dimensions are a HUGE advantage, because one weekend you travel two hours into the mountains and kiss the Argentinian border.  The next you travel two hours and find yourself on the coast eating fresh seafood at a fish market.  Perfect!  Well… at least for Mom and Dad.  One kid was less than thrilled about his lunch.

Yes, Valdivia itself has charm, but if you asked the family what we’d like to go back for most, here’s what you’d hear:

Mom and Dad:  The great local beer! The Kunstmann brewery creates some wonderful Germanic beers.  Even the kids got in on the brewery tour fun.  😉


Lucas and Andrew:  THE SEA LIONS.  Parked on a sunny raft (and up and down the concrete pier) near the downtown fish market — these giants of the ocean bask and collect fish scraps all day long.  I’m pretty sure the boys cared about nothing else.

The part I truly enjoyed the most, however, was the coastal drive in and beyond the town of Niebla.  It’s ENTIRELY worthy of all praises it gets.  The cliffs and the colorful fishing boats.  The Pacific Ocean views and the really cool (and free!) colonial fort to visit.  This stretch of land is, hands down, the best part of Region XIV.



And there you have it.

A summer well-spent, if I do say so myself!  The best part is that we never drove more than 4 hours from our front door to experience these gems.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is:  COME VISIT US.  Southern Chile is beautiful in so many ways… and the company you’ll keep isn’t too bad either.  😉



Fact: 8 year olds girls make great foreign language teachers

We have a new next door neighbor.  Actually, every week we get someone new, which is what happens when you spend two months living in a Chilean vacation rental.

But today is my lucky day because this new neighbor has an 8 year old girl.  And do you know what THAT means???

Free Spanish lessons!

It’s an almost absolute truth.  If there is a Spanish speaking 8-10 year old girl within a one block radius, and if she happens to see me (especially if I’m with Andrew) — she will talk to me.

And not only will she talk to me… she will delight in it.  Despite my awful, choppy, often-indecipherable Spanish, this bold niña will persevere.  If given the opportunity, she’ll even return later for MORE rudimentary language torture.  They seem to thrive on my ineptitude.

Because they LOVE the attention.
Because they LOVE knowing something an adult doesn’t know.
Because more than anything, 8 year old girls LOVE to talk about themselves.

Capitalizing on these truths is a genius way to gain much-needed language skills.

So here are 10 reasons why a child makes the best language teacher:

  1. A child will repeat the same thing again and again and again without seeming the least bit bothered.
  2. If you ask them to go slower, they don’t get annoyed.  Rather, they react as if they were in the wrong to rush you to begin with.
  3. They like to talk about simple things like school, activities, their pets, and their families — words a new language learner is apt to know.
  4. They use super simple, repetitive descriptors — also super helpful for the new language learner.
  5. They don’t really care if you say much back.  Mostly they just like doing the talking about themselves.  So just listen and throw in a basic question every now and again as you feel prepared.  It’s solid language gold.
  6. If you don’t understand what an 8 year old girl is saying — don’t worry!  They’ll act it out! (Today, she actually turned a cartwheel in the backyard to assist me)
  7. Most of them have learned a *tiny* bit of English in school — and they BASK in any praise for minor language accomplishments.  A well-placed high five can buy you 5 more free minutes of language support.
  8. In turn, they will also praise YOUR minor accomplishments and believe me — you’ll bask in it too.  🙂
  9. The encounters don’t drag on, nor do you need any formalities.  Conversations end abruptly, often without advance warning.
  10. The word “YouTube” is the same in all languages.  Chances are they are going to mention it in some capacity — so you’re bound to get one thing right!

You may wonder why I don’t include boys in this.  Well, truth is, most elementary school aged boys would be really crappy language instructors.  Unless, of course, you wish to learn how to say things about soccer or kicking dirt or throwing things.  If that’s what you want to learn — they are your BEST bet!  I like to think that the boys will make great intermediate level teachers.  I’m just not ready for them yet.  😉

So next time you are learning a new language and want some REAL help… keep your fingers crossed that a child will choose to befriend your awkward, foreign self.  Chances are you’ll have a great time and walk away far happier than you would have if you’d have stuck only to the adult-scene.


Important Travel Tip:  Striking up conversation with random 8 year old girls is NOT advised for those traveling without children themselves.  And it’s probably best if you’re a female.  Sorry childless dudes — find your own free lessons.  🙂 



Lessons in slowing down

Nothing feels rushed here.
Maybe because nothing CAN be rushed here.

It’s summer, after all, and our little Chilean town has exploded with vacationers, packing roads and grocery stores, crossing streets without warning, making ill-advised parking choices.

And in the winter?  Rain.  Insane amounts of rain making rough roads rougher and brutalizing your car’s suspension.  Or so we’ve heard… I guess we’ll know soon enough.

But this slowness isn’t just by circumstance.  It’s also cultural.

You can tell this by the grocery store clerks, because no matter how full the store or how long the lines — there’s an air of casual slowness in their checking and bagging.

You can tell this by the roadside vendors — standing for hours with crudely made cardboard signs reading nothing but the words: “Cabaña” or “Pan Amasado”

You know this by the slow, late dinners, families splashing and grilling by the poolside from mid-day until eyes are straining to see in the late summer twilight.


And this slowness?  It can drive a person crazy — especially an American person — because we like to GO.  We like to DO.  Words like “productive” and “efficient” and “multi-tasking” are highly praised in the land from which I hail.

We are really good at planning stuff in the US.  And we keep very, very BUSY.

So a day like today?
A day where we embrace the local rhythm with new friends and spend hour after hour after hour in a state of rest, casually enjoying one another’s company?

Today. Was. Perfect.

Today was a day of potato picking adventures with a rag-tag bunch of wee ones.
It was a day made of carrot soup, shade trees, dirty feet, rough cut diving boards into farm ponds and toddlers collapsing into hammocks.  It was a day of waterfalls and watermelon seeds, of baby kittens and homemade kambucha.

It was a day of new friendships and connections that feel intentional.

And after 8 restful hours of enjoying the beautiful land, happy kids, and good food — we finally departed from our “lunch gathering”

Our own eyes straining in the late summer twilight.

Because there is no need to rush here.

There is no need to move on to the next item on the list… because the list is short and most everything on it can wait.  At least on summer Sundays like this one.



Big Top Chile

The second we saw the big canvas striped sheets being hoisted into the sky, we knew it was a non-negotiable.  We were going to that circus. 


Or the other circus.
Or the 3rd circus.
In fact there are, right now, no fewer than 5 circus tents running simultaneously in the Villarrica-Pucón area!

Apparently it’s a thing here.

And they all look pretty much identical.  The dusty, rutted parking lots, the well-worn painted signage, the impressive peaks of the tent luring you in, and the lights blinking at dusk, hoping to attract at least a few dozen travelers through the doors.


To be honest, it was all so classic and old school, I half expected to see roustabouts in short trousers and pageboy caps hoisting the rigging.  Or maybe to hear carnival barkers luring folks into tents with promises of bearded women, 700 pound men, and “exciting wonders from the Orient.”


While those roustabouts were, sadly, more modern in t-shirts and jeans — there were elements that harkened back to a time of non-existent safety codes.  For example, the bleachers.  12 rows of rough cut, sagging planks IMG_5385tied together with fraying ropes, these structures tested the laws of physics for balance and weight-bearing capacity.  …And didn’t give one much hope!

So, of course, Andrew lunged for them first thing — ready to scale Mount Everest.  And while Mama was game to make one quick trip to the top, we quickly returned to stable ground, parking in Row 2.  Even way down there, one immediately felt compelled to scan the scene for emergency evacuation routes.

There were, perhaps, only 30 other people in the tent with us that evening.  A 7:45 Monday night showing doesn’t have many takers.  This low turn out, however, meant that we were given  a little more “special attention.”  10 minutes into the show and Rich was already being forced to drink some unidentifiable, sweet yellow liquid from the wooden cask a clown offered him.

One’s ability to say “no” quickly diminishes under the glow of a follow-spot… even if “no” is the same in both languages.

And the toys.  Oh the TOYS!  I would safely say, even with my limited Spanish, that at least 30% of the show was geared towards luring parents into buying their children the cheap plastic toys, candied apples, papas fritas, and assorted light up goods.

I mean, who gives into that crap????  You gotta be pretty weak to gi–


Oh… wait… ummmm… I mean….
Let’s move right along, shall we?


Now, if I’m going to be perfectly honest — And this will come as a shock, I’m sure…  The talent in this outfit left much to be desired.

Now that doesn’t mean we didn’t love it.  We TOTALLY did.   It was just… a little green.  😉

Here’s a breakdown of the basic program:

Youth Clowns.  Apparently a training ground for the next generation of clowning… this show had two heavily featured young clowns that did novice routines (mostly dancing around and lip-syncing while wearing wigs).  They weren’t awesome — but I loved the boldness of those kids.  There were also two adult clowns that were pretty funny (when I could understand them).  And one was a wicked trumpet player too.


The Spanish language lip syncing Frozen routine.  Clearly breaking all copyright infringement laws possible, this Anna, Elsa, and Olaf combo pack really brought an interesting (albeit entirely out of place) touch to the evening.  BUT… it did snow on stage – which was the most technical special effect of the night.

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 12.01.27 AM

And who can forget when a very boxy Lightening McQueen backed onto stage and talked to us?  Lucas is still talking about this.  Oh to be five!



Half-skilled, yet FULL-hearted unicyclists, jugglers, and aerialists.  Oh man did these folks give it the good old college try!  And they almost had the right pizazz and showmanship to yank them through their amateur level skills

… the unicyclist who was clearly sweating bullets around those cones, making us wonder if it was her first night on the job.

… the juggler who did great with 3 and 4 hoops… but may have gotten overzealous with 8.

… the aerialist who got tangled in her fabric at least twice.

… and the hula hoop artist who, well actually… she was pretty darn good!



Amazing feats of daring by motorcyclists in the steel ball cage.  Ahhh, a circus classic, I was surprised to see this actually featured.  I was, however, less surprised when one of the motorcycles wouldn’t start once in the ball and had to be removed.  That being said, the broken bike DID make the short 2-man stint that much more of a nail-biter when he chose to REENTER with his faulty bike and do the trick anyway!  😮



But my favorite part of the entire evening… when Lucas and Andrew went on stage!  Here’s how it went down in the Bartell family.

Mom(enthusiastically) Lucas, all the kids are invited on stage!  Do you wanna go up there?
Lucas:  No.  I don’t.  (Becomes suddenly and deeply interested in his light up sword)
Mom:  Okay, if you’re sure.
Andrew: (loud and emphatic)  I WANT TO GO.
Mom:  You do?
Andrew:  Yes.  I go.  (Barrels towards the stage)
Mom: (in a rush) Lucas!  Go with him so he doesn’t wander or start anything on fire!
Lucas(sighs, the general theme of the next 12 years flashing before his eyes, resignedly)  Fine.

IMG_3067The best part?  Andrew got up there and, because he’s 2, bailed almost immediately.  Lucas, on the other hand, is 5 and knows what’s what.  He hadn’t been dismissed by the strange clown yet so there he stayed.
Does he speak the language?  Nope!
Can he do the game?  Nope!
Does he know how to answer the question, “Como te llamas?”  YES!

Holy smokes, that little lad scored BIG bravery points that night simply by speaking his name into a microphone.  Because anyone who’s ever been pulled on stage before, especially in a foreign country, knows there is NOTHING simple about that!



The show ended at 9:30 — which meant the boys were up way past bedtime.  But it also meant that the 10:00 show was lining up for admittance, and the line was filled with a bunch children as young as my own — just getting revved up to start their evening of fun.

As we walked to our car, Rich turned to me and said, “Well, I feel like that was an absolutely necessary experience.”  And I couldn’t agree more.

I’m so thankful we went.

…And even more thankful that I didn’t see any emaciated tigers, open flames, or attempted “saw the lady in two” magic tricks attempted.   Because really, when your big-time act is an Elsa lip sync – it’s best not to push your luck too far!



New arrival contingency: plan ahead to fund your ineptitude

So.  Day 4 of life in Pucón, Chile commences.  And with it, new lessons abound.

For example… here is a list of things I bought at the local grocery store that cost more than my good bottle of Chilean wine:

  • Toilet paper
  • Baby wipes
  • Laundry detergent
  • Paper towels
  • Ham
  • Plastic food storage containers
  • Eggs (my bad, newbie error)

Part of living abroad is learning how to do the basics of life all over again.

You make mistakes.

“Gah! Damed expensive eggs I forgot to price check!”

But you also have unexpected wins.

“Why yes I would love a bottle of delicious wine for $3 USD.  Muchas gracias!”

Sometimes you pay double (or heaven help you, triple) what was necessary for a product simply because you don’t know your way around the town yet.

“Listen, I know the life jackets didn’t need to be that expensive, but I was REALLY desperate to swim today and I was alone with the boys!  The hit was necessary for our sanity.  Believe me.”

And sometimes you even have to buy costly items twice simply because you misuse them or misinterpret the instructions the first time around.

“Oh… so you’re saying that this non-refundable SIM card actually does not work on my phone? Hmmm.  And you’re saying I can’t even use the excuse that someone tried to scam the foreigner because it actually explains it all right here on the packaging I couldn’t read?  Awesome.”

But these types of financial setbacks are small in the grand scheme of things, and you  have to factor those costs into the overall contingency costs of relocation.  It’s just part of the process.  Swallow your pride and get over it quickly.

…But sometimes.

Sometimes the things you don’t know and cannot do fill you with very real fear and anxiety.

Because you don’t have a doctor you know and trust.
Because you don’t know how to read the labels on medicines yet.
Because you don’t have clear emergency routes mapped in your head.
Because your internet service goes out and you can’t get it back on — and all your important contact numbers and information is linked to your e-mail account.

It’s not always the kind of adventure you want.  In fact, at the start of it all, the reality of your small days rarely resembles your big dreams.

But there is learning in that too… and luck.  There’s always a healthy dose of that as well.

We have been fortunate these first days to have been greeted by other expats who have gone through this before.  People who hugged us like old friends and brought us food, helped us set up our phones, and hooked us up with everything from cars to booster seats.  We are not alone here.

We have people.

I look forward to the day when I am on firm footing, know a thing or two, and can help a new arrival do life.  It happened in Hong Kong and it’ll happen here.  Until then, however, humility is my new middle name… and I will take ALL the help I can get.


…And when help isn’t available, as Lucas reminded me this morning:  “Mom, don’t worry.  In Chile there’s always Kriko ice cream bars!”

Oh Lucas — you can keep that Kriko all for yourself.  But thank you for sharing your optimism with me.  I’ll take a healthy dose of that anytime!  😉

The Departure. The Chaos. The Lists.

People often ask how we pack for these moves. 8 bags, up to 450 lbs of luggage after carry-ons are included… 2 car seats, 1 sit and stand stroller…

To be honest — it pretty much sucks.

It includes bringing what feels like too much, all the while leaving behind things you really love and want to have – especially clothes (for mom), toys (for the lads), and computer monitors (for Rich). 

It includes sorting through the contents of your life and trying to stick to your unemotional Excel spreadsheet because, in the moment, everything feels “necessary” — even if your spreadsheet says differently.

It always says differently.

It includes staring at two sweatshirts that look the same but serve different purposes — and trying to decide which one makes the cut because you have to be practical. And then repeating this process for leggings, boots, t-shirts, winter mittens, etc. etc. etc…

It includes 1st and 2nd and 3rd round sorts — packing and repacking bags to make best use of weight — and always, ALWAYS pushing it to the wire on time, even when you’re as organized as you can be.

It includes living in a mess for days on end. Trying to “do life” in between the piles — which doesn’t work so well when you have two rowdy kids.

It includes shopping (and finding room) for all sorts of things you always forget to include when you first start making your lists — things like your favorite Italian seasoning, ground coffee, shampoos and hair products, extra child medicines, new shoes in your proper size (oh the pain of having large feet abroad).  Additionally, your children need the next “size up” because (of course) they are both on the cusp of that growth spurt and six months is a game changer when you’re talking about kids and the length of their pants.  🙂

It includes doing laundry — referring back to your aforementioned lists — and trying to keep track of which laundry is coming and what is staying behind.

It includes missing out on the fun, family time you WANT to be having in your final days so you can do practical things that prepare you best for your next step.

And this never changes.
It was like this when we left 7 years ago.
It was like this when we left Hong Kong.
It is like this now.

… only with an extra person to factor in each time.  And let me tell you… those extra people. Oh man do they throw all sorts of crazy into this process. 

And yes, you  might be thinking:

“Surely Chileans drink coffee and use spices, Robin.  Why don’t you save yourself the trouble and buy these things there?”

And yes, you’d be absolutely right.  They do.

…And also they don’t.

Because when you’re new and your lonesome for home… Sometimes all you want, all you need, is your mom’s spaghetti sauce.   And if you want to make it so your heart feels less heavy — less far away… Well, you need the right tools.  And folks, that takes good old fashioned, boring McCormicks Italian seasoning.

This isn’t our first rodeo.  We know what our homesick hearts need.  😉

So here we sit:  T-minus 2 days until the move to Chile and on the home stretch.
You know, until we come back to visit in July and get to do it all again with the second round draft picks.