Switching Gears, Changing Lanes: Our New Blog

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The Light Bulb Above My Head:

A few weeks ago, during a solitary walk on a cloudless afternoon , I had a revelation (that’s been happening a lot on my walks recently). With no music pumping into my ears, I was thinking of goals past and present, of our travel blog, of the information we put out (or not) about our experiences living abroad with our family.

Truth is, I’m not really excited about documenting Argentine life/experiences/information anymore. I am tired of writing about the pros and cons of certain places and the many reasons we chose to leave Uruguay (we get questions about Uruguay more than Argentina and we haven’t lived there since 2010.)

I also don’t want to write a travel guidebook about all the locations/attractions/foods/people/culture in Argentina.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Argentina and love to help people find specific answers to fit their personal situations and goals for living abroad. I just don’t want to write generic travel information that may or may not help anyone.

What Gets My Blood Pumping:

What I AM passionate about is our family’s quest for health. I am not strictly speaking about physical health (although that contributes to it), but my list includes:

  • Mental Health (and General Sanity!)
  • Work/life Balance
  • Environmental Health
  • Minimalism – The quest for less stuff & simpler living
  • Lifestyle Design & Location Independence
  • My Adventures with Type 1 Diabetes
  • Healthy Balances with Kids
  • Cooking & Recipes
  • Physical Fitness
  • Travel and Packing How-To
… and how our journey towards healthy living is influenced by – and contributes to – our choice to live abroad.

The format and name of this blog will be changing to HealthyFamilyAbroad in the coming weeks, although we will reference previous articles and maintain our URMovingWhere articles within the archives. There will be a re-direct set up so you can still type use the URMovingWhere name and be sent to the new blog format.

**We’re also looking into ways to monetize our blog and add revenue streams with the new format. All of this will be done with complete transparency and we will be adding a source of income tab to show how we are making our blogging experiences support our lifestyle, instead of just our life supporting our blogging, as has been the case these last 5 years. ;) 

We hope that you will continue to join us in our adventures as we explore and document our journey living as a Healthy Family Abroad! 

Thank you all for your support!

Un beso,

Lisa

Expat Feature: George, Part 3 of 3 – The Difficult Transition

This is the final part in George’s Story, if you missed the first parts, you can read Part 1  and Part 2 here.

Jorge Pic 2

 

I arrived in Argentina in June of 2012 and it was freezing! I already knew that when it was spring and summer in the States, it was fall and winter in Argentina but apparently my body was still lagging seasonally.

After arriving at Cordoba’s airport, my spouse and I were greeted by my parents. It was extremely emotional for all of us. After all, when they moved to Argentina seven years earlier, I had made the choice to stay in the States. This produced a fall out and neither of us ever expected to see each other again until now.

My parents were instrumental in helping us through the transition.

I had a home of my own and it was fully furnished. Even the fridge and pantry were flowing with different types of food. They had pretty much thought of everything. We felt a great deal of euphoria in the first few weeks we were here. It was a new country and my spouse and I were eager to explore it but eventually, the new wore-off and we realized we were very far from our friends, family and essentially the only life we had ever known. Soon the euphoria turned into desperation and depression.

There were a couple of tough adjustments; the first being the language. We meant to speak Spanish the whole time but that plan lasted a good ten seconds before we went back to speaking English in the house and on the streets. My spouse was born in Ft. Lauderdale to an Irish mother and a Puerto-Rican father. Although he spoke and understood Spanish to a certain degree, he was unaccustomed to how different the Argentine Castilian was to the standard Spanish we were used to hearing from our family and friends in the States. Even I was a little thrown off by some of the words, sayings and jokes and I was raised by Argentine parents.

However, the biggest obstacle for us had been separating the things my mother had told us about how easy it would be to integrate to Argentina with the actual facts.

At the time I was 35 and my spouse was 29. We hadn’t anticipated any issues finding work, but we also didn’t know that an employer could screen potential candidates based on their age and gender. It became obvious that we were going to have to figure out the truth about life in Argentina for ourselves. So we asked around. Eventually we learned that it’s difficult to get work if you’re over 27 and virtually impossible after 30. Of course there’s always the option of working under the table, which we have done as freelance writers in order to survive here.

Another obstacle we discovered was the stigma that certain people have in regards to Americans. I can’t tell you how awkward it is to get invited to a party and hear people bad mouthing Americans and calling us “colonizing terrorists.” This initially made it really difficult to make friends and for a time we decided to live in a virtual bubble. Eventually, we reached out to other expats and they in turn introduced us to Argentineans who are kind and open-minded. Some even speak English too.

The food however took some getting used to. Argentines are quite fond of their barbecues, which consist of everything from cow brains to kidneys, ribs and entrails. We found very little variety beyond the empanadas, crumb sandwiches and “Dulce De Leche” spread. I missed the variety that was available in the States. I was craving Chinese food, good old southern fried chicken, fried Okra, bacon, maple syrup, waffles, stuffing, turkey slices, pepperoni, pizza rolls, Hot Pockets, Shanghai wings, waffles, General Tso’s Chicken, New York style pizza, tacos, burritos, even the Cuban and Puerto-Rican sandwiches (called Pernil) that I’d grown accustomed to. Granted some of these items are hard but not impossible to find here. Other dishes can be made from scratch if you’re lucky enough to be married to someone who loves to cook, like I am. But for the most part, a lot of the American, Mexican, or oriental style dishes are served at restaurants with an Argentine twist to them, which simply doesn’t work for me.

Jorge Pic 1However, Argentina has given us the chance to do something we love quite a bit and that’s to explore and see new things.

In the last two years, I’ve visited the Sierras (mountain region) of Cordoba. I’ve been awestruck by the rock formations and breathtaking depths.

I’ve also visited the capital in Buenos Aires which is far more similar to the States than anything I’ve seen in Cordoba. The buildings in the capital are taller. It’s a bit more hectic and people are always buying things in much the same way as they do in Manhattan. Some areas, especially the business district, where a lot of the national and international banks are located, reminded me of downtown Miami. Recently, I’ve also had the chance to visit the province of San Juan. Did it have an emotional resonance for me because I was born there?

Unfortunately I have no memory of my life in San Juan as I only spent my first year and a half in this province. So the answer to that question would be no. So have I integrated to Argentine life after two and a half year of living here? Um no and I don’t see myself ever doing that, at least not fully, but that’s okay. My initial fear was that I would have to give up who I was to assimilate to Argentinean society, but I’ve come to realize that I can truly have the best of both worlds without having to lose anything and that’s one of the biggest hurdles I’ve managed to overcome as an expat.

Link to George’s expat site: http://gayamericaninargentina.blogspot.com.ar/

 

A huge thanks to Jorge (George) for sharing his story with us over the last few weeks! I love the perspective because each expat experience is completely unique. From your background situation, to logistics on the ground where you move, to what you miss most from your “home” country.
We’ll be reposting our own expat story in this format in the coming weeks.

Expat Feature: George, part 2 of 3 – Preparation

Here is part 2 of George’s Expat story. If you missed part 1, you can find George’s Expat story Part 1 here.

Jorge Pic 3

Careful preparation and organization are vital elements for any kind of move, but nothing could have prepared me for the physical, financial and emotional exhaustion that came with moving abroad.

My spouse and I were going to a country that is very different from the United States culturally with its customs, food and overall way of life.

For starters, we’ve always been big spenders. I myself have a DVD obsession while my spouse is hooked on novels and clothes. Would we be able to keep up this lifestyle in Argentina? For that answer we went to the expert, my mother.

My mom warned me months before my move that life in Argentina would take some getting used to but nothing can really prepare you for the journey until you’ve actually set foot here. Although she meant well, she practically sold us a lemon when she convinced us that the politics, financial and job outlook here was great, but we fell for it and decided to start packing.

So now we had to go through a ton of items in our storage unit and weed out what we needed, wanted, and what needed to go in the trash. Since our budget was limited, we could only afford to send four boxes, 50 pounds each through an international moving company. That in itself set us back 1,200 US dollars. We gave away whatever we didn’t want to our New York family and left the stuff we couldn’t take in their basement with the promise of returning to reclaim the items at some future date.

Although we had been preparing for months, we were still packing, taking stuff out and reorganizing things until the last minute.

This was hard on us but even harder on our family. My in-laws barely had time to say goodbye to us. We could tell that they were disappointed. My spouse and I knew that our move to Argentina was quite possibly a one-way trip and so did they. Our family wanted the chance to say goodbye and yet there simply wasn’t time and that’s possibly one of our biggest regrets; not making enough time for them.

I don’t think I was too nervous about the move itself but that might have been the effects of the Xanax I took before getting on the cab to get to the airport. My spouse has always been my rock and I drew strength from how well he was handling everything. I think the only time I became emotional was when the plane took off and I saw New York from up above for what was possibly the last time. But I hadn’t left The States, not just yet. Our plane landed in Miami and there was a layover of a couple of hours before we boarded the next plane which would take us to Argentina.

I guess it was kind of symbolic that my life began when I arrived in Miami and now I was saying goodbye to it before beginning a whole new adventure in Argentina. As the second plane took off, I watched the night lights of Miami one last time.

Goodbye U.S.A. the only home I’ve ever known. Thank you for my life.


 

We’ll be posting the final installment in George’s story next week. How has he adjusted to life in Argentina? Has it met expectations? We’ll see!

Expat Feature: George, part 1 of 3

George in NYC
George in NYC

Is it George or Jorge? That’s the question most people have asked me since I was five years old.

I generally go by George, since it was easier for my teachers, friends and bosses to pronounce. For some reason, the J has always been a tongue twister for a lot of the folks I’ve met growing up. So I go by George.

So what makes me unique from the average American expat? Well for starters, I wasn’t born in the United States. I was born in San Juan Argentina during the militia dictatorship of the 70s. It was a terrible time in Argentine history. People were abducted from their homes and were never heard from again. My parents feared for my life so they took me to live in the United States. They did everything in their power to speed up our residency and U.S. citizenship paperwork so that I would never be forced to go back and endure the hell that the Argentine people were facing at the time.

I never knew much of anything about my life in Argentina. I was too small to remember anything. Life for me began in my hometown of Miami. My parents and I moved around quite a bit while I was growing up. I must have gone through ten different schools before I graduated high school. Oh and I did spend a year in Franklin Tennessee before we moved back to Miami. I attended college in Orlando’s Valencia Community College, where I spent ten years of my life and eventually met my future spouse. 

George, his spouse and in-laws in NYC
George, his spouse and in-laws in NYC

You could say that traveling has always been a part of me. Since meeting my partner, we’ve done quite a bit of cross-country trips. Eventually I followed my partner to New York so he could attend a college called New School. We remained in New York for four years during which time I was laid off twice. I even remember one year where we were living in a shoebox apartment infested with rats and eating boiled eggs, Jell-O and drinking tap water. New York was going to be the precipice where my writing career would take off but it didn’t.

We ultimately decided that New York was not the right fit for us so we needed an escape plan.

The only choice available to us was one that I was very reluctant to take … moving to Argentina. My parents had retired and left the States seven years earlier and were living comfortably in Cordoba, managing a series of properties. I reached out to my folks, explained what was happening, and they invited us to move to Cordoba. So why was I so reluctant? The American life was all I’ve ever known. There was no room in my mind, body or soul for any other allegiances. I wanted my life to continue in the States, with my friends and with my in-laws but I had to look towards the future. The Bronx just wasn’t cutting it and we didn’t have the resources to start over anywhere else in the States. So after a great deal of soul-searching I decided to accept my parents’ generous offer to move to Argentina.

But as I got ready for the big move, two questions haunted me. What if I can’t survive the culture shock? What if I can never find a way to return home?


 

Please look for Part 2 of George’s story featured next week! How would he transition to life in Argentina? Would it meet his expectations????

Perfect Imperfections

** This is a post the I wrote back in June but for some reason never posted.  So here it is! **

A Perfect Fall Day, Córdoba, Argentina
A Perfect Fall Day, Córdoba, Argentina

As I was walking home from bringing Daughter#2 at her preschool this afternoon, a 4 km round trip through a beautiful neighborhood on a partly cloudy, crisp early fall day, I kept thinking about the term ‘perfection’. What a perfect day. What an amazing experience, walking these residential streets that I walk every day, but being truly present and aware of the beauty.

Truth be told: My music app wasn’t working so I was forced to walk without the distraction of a steady beat pumped into my ears.

I breathed deeply, walked smoothly, noticed the leaves falling in the breeze. I picked up the most perfect golden red leaf from the ground… and then noticed its imperfections. The small tear towards the bottom. The spots of brown. It wasn’t perfect at all. But what in nature really is? It is all very imperfect, but that is what makes it beautiful.

A 'perfect' leaf on my walk.
A ‘perfect’ leaf on my walk.

Of course, nature’s beauty is fleeting and as I stopped to take a photo, I must have dropped this perfect leaf and I couldn’t find it again.

Perfection and the lack thereof has been a recurring theme lately. It is something that keeps coming up in my world. Needless to say, it’s been on my mind.

One of my favorite songs on my walking playlist is John Legend’s “All of Me”.  If you don’t know it or want to listen again, you can see a version of it here (live version appropriate for all ages). “Cause all of me
Loves all of you.
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections.”

I was also thinking about a blog that I saw for the first time last night. A truly inspiring story about a woman’s weight loss journey and finding love in herself and her imperfect body. Check out the story at I’mperfect Life.

The underlying theme: Our lives are never perfect, our relationships are never perfect, no matter what they look like from the outside.

Along the same lines- A country is never perfect, either.

No matter where you are, you have to take the good with the bad and find beauty in the imperfections, the frustrations, the day to day nuances that may drive you crazy (See my list of the Pros & Cons of Argentina Part 1Part 2!) You have to decide if those imperfections are a deal-breaker for you. If you stick it out, if you make the best of whatever imperfect situation or country, it can help grow resilience, an open mind and open heart.

This is not to say that you have to accept the way things are without changing (yourself, the situation, or both). Just remember to look for the beauty among the (seemingly more obvious) imperfections of the journey.

That is all. I am off to enjoy more of this absolutely perfect day.

Lisa

Striving for Minimalism

Toddler G and all of our STUFF arriving in Montevideo Uruguay in March 2009We moved to South America 5 years ago this past March, with a 15-month-old baby, two Pugs, a collection of carry-ons plus 12 bags/boxes, a stroller, travel crib and car seat, all brought with us on the airplane.

This was after we sorted and packed/sold/gave away nearly everything we owned. All the furniture in our 2000 sq. ft house in MN; sold. Clothes; donated. No shipping container for us. No sir. We’ve pared it down to the essentials.

Our whole life was in those 12 bags/boxes. Everything from clothes and toys to a desktop computer and two flatscreen monitors.

We liked to think that we were living a minimalist lifestyle when we brought said bags/boxes to our furnished rental in Montevideo, but we weren’t. Not even close. We still had collections of clothes that we brought with us “just in case”. We sill had (and have to this day) boxes and boxes in storage in my father-in-law’s basement back in the USA. Boxes full of housewares and momentos, clothes and business paperwork. I shudder at the thought of those boxes, even though I have sorted, further purged and repacked said boxes every time we visit the USA.

Is this any better than paying for a storage unit somewhere? No.

Little F (along with Paloma the Pug) in the play area. Look at all the STUFF!
Little F in our play area. Look at all the STUFF!

We now have far too many toys and random THINGS that we’ve accumulated being in one house in Cordoba for over 3 years. Time to pare down again. We are sorting, cleaning, selling and giving away once again.

Less STUFF means less to worry about. Money saved by not purchasing extraneous things. Time saved not looking for things and not having to maintain ‘collections’ of things. More time for meaningful experiences. More time for the PEOPLE in your life.

My favorite video about STUFF is in the link below (warning: Carlin has a potty-mouth, but the message is powerful). Click if you dare: http://youtu.be/MvgN5gCuLac

Some of our favorite minimalist resources are:

Zen Habits http://zenhabits.net/ (which planted the seed in our minds, years ago)

Becoming Minimalist http://www.becomingminimalist.com/

The Minimalist Mom http://www.theminimalistmom.com/

Food and The Mother of Invention

If you asked me 5 years ago whether I thought food would be a major factor in our lives in South America, I never would have considered it. Food was food. Sure there were things I liked to eat and I knew there would be things that I wouldn’t be able to find in South America, but I am here to tell you that our cooking and eating habits have changed and matured dramatically since we left the USA in early 2009.

Poached Pears (With Chocolate Sauce and Vanilla Cream Topping)
Poached Pears (With Chocolate Sauce and Vanilla Cream Topping)

In Uruguay, our major adjustment was that the dinner hour doesn’t start until about 8 PM (this is true in Argentina as well, with many restaurants hitting their busiest times around 10 PM). When we visited Uruguay in early 2008 during our exploratory trip with our infant daughter, this wasn’t an issue. We brought the baby with us in a stroller and she slept while we ate. Toddlers, unfortunately are not quite as flexible. We opted to make food at home whenever possible and more often than we care to admit, we would wait for the take-out pizza place to open at 7 PM so we could get our pizza, pizzeta (crust, sauce and toppings with no cheese) and faina.

Weekly Produce for URMOVINGWHERE Family
Weekly Produce for URMOVINGWHERE Family

Luckily, wherever we have lived in South America, there has been an ample supply of fresh produce and we could find the raw ingredients to make many things. On the other hand, the furnished rentals where we’ve lived have posed a challenge with the appliances/cookware provided. I started to cook in earnest, while not buying many durable goods because we’ve been moving frequently. Necessity is the mother of invention and I learned to make all the things that we might be craving: pad thai, fried rice, mac & cheese, lasagne, and all sorts of sauces, soups and spice blends from scratch.

I’ve always loved to bake, but I started experimenting with alternative flours (there are many gluten-free alternatives here) and I’ve had great success with everything from pizza crusts to moist fruit breads and crumbly scones.

Many of my cooking challenges arise from using recipes or meal-planning sites from the USA. As we are not in the US, I do not have access to certain foods (like kale, organic anything, sweet potatoes and most packaged items) and appliances (like crockpots- not available here, or a blender- I refuse to buy one). I’ve made do with substitutions for some things and created my own modified prep and cooking methods for others.

I am going to start to include recipes and workarounds here, as a supplement to our travel blog. Food is a huge part of an experience in any country. While I sometimes like to cook North American food as a reminder of ‘home’, I use many international influences, all the while modifying recipes to fit with the foods we have readily available in central Argentina.

Hope you enjoy our international food journey. You might just find a recipe that you’d like to try as well. ¡Buen Provecho!

I’m Dreaming Of A White Christmas…

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate the day! Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year to everyone!!!

Our Charlie Brown Christmas Tree & Little F With An Angel
Our Charlie Brown Christmas Tree & Little F With An Angel

This is a season of strong emotion for us- as it is for many people. We have chosen not to travel back ‘home’ for Christmas and rather travel in the summer (June/July) to the US when we can enjoy the weather there and get away from the winter here in Argentina.

That does not make this time of year any easier. As we struggle to create warm-weather Christmas traditions without our extended family nearby, it doesn’t quite seem like Christmas to us. We both grew up in the upper midwest of the United States. Christmas meant cold and snow and baking Christmas cookies and navigating holiday storms/slippery roads to visit family.

Visiting Papa Noel December 2013
Visiting Papa Noel December 2013

Our Christmas in Argentina will consist of opening up a family present to each of the girls on Christmas eve, along with setting out cookies/milk for Santa and carrots for the reindeer. Unfortunately no homemade cookies this year. 100 F heat with a broken AC is too warm to turn on the oven. We’ll be streaming Christmas music on the ipad (avoiding “I’ll be Home For Christmas”– that always makes me cry) and enjoying plenty of ice cream and many a frosty beverage in an attempt to keep cool.

Christmas morning will be chaotic, like many households with young kids. Our 6 year old and 1.5 year old will dive into their presents and we’ll take a few new pool toys out to enjoy right after breakfast. Christmas day will be no baking for us. We’ll be grilling salmon and beef tenderloin on the parilla and taking dips in the pool to cool off in between cooking.

Christmas memories will not always be like this and we are planning to enjoy a snowy white Christmas with family again very soon. Right now though, our Christmas is bittersweet. We are missing family and the Christmas experience of our childhood as we create a new ‘normal’ warm weather Christmas for our girls. Lets just hope that I don’t start bawling during all of our planned skype calls with family! :)

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Argentina!!! XOXOXOXOXO!!!

Pros and Cons of Argentina: Part 2 of 2

The lists of Pros and Cons for Argentina and Uruguay have been popular and we have to note that these lists are based on our experiences, you may not find the same apply to you.

Even with the following list, we love Argentina. All places have their pros and cons and we have found a spot here in Cordoba Argentina that works for our family. We liked Uruguay but were never in love with Montevideo and are MUCH happier here in Argentina.

If you haven’t read our previous lists, Check out Uruguay Pros and Cons And Argentina Pros: Part 1 of 2.  If you’ve lived in either one of these countries, what have your experiences been? Do you agree with our lists or disagree? Leave a comment to let us know.

ARGENTINA CONS:

  • Vacation Days This may be a Pro if you are a salaried Argentine employee, but for us, working on a US schedule or any Argentine hourly employee, the sheer amount of vacation days in Argentina is ridiculous. It means schools are closed, stores are closed and we have a day where we still have to work but also have to juggle childcare and pre-planning of all the shopping/services. For example this past Easter, Thursday is a marginal holiday, Friday is a national holiday and Tuesday the 2nd is also a national holidays to commemorate the Malvinas war. The Monday after easter has been added as a bridge day, creating 6 days off for many people (our daughter’s school). Good for them, bad for us on a US schedule.
  • Ferias. Oh, how I long for Uruguay’s fresh produce in a street market, set up weekly before the sun rises. The energy, the culture and the gloriously fresh produce, eggs, meat and fish. Sigh. There are ‘Ferias Francas’ here, but none in our neighborhood. We will have to search them out and make a weekly journey. Certainly not as convenient as the feria outside of our door every Sunday morning in Montevideo.
  • Governmental Stability. Hahaha. Argentina? Stable Government? You have to be kidding me. Primaries were held yesterday, legislative elections are in October and the presidential election is in 2015. So we’ll wait and see what happens.
  • Monsanto and Agribusiness. While there is a growing demand for organic fruits and vegetables here (and suppliers meeting the need), the big agro-businesses have a hold on Argentina and grow and incredible amount of GM soy and corn here. Some estimates state there are 19 million hectares of GM soy here, which represents 56 percent of the cultivated area in Argentina and that 97% is exported to Europe and Asia. 

     This is something that weighs very heavily on my mind, but the USA is no better, in this regard.

On a similar note, much of the free-range beef and other high quality food products are exported as well, leaving the lesser quality for the Argentines. You will occasionally see “Calidad de Exportación” on products – meaning “Export Quality” but it is pretty rare. This, along with tight restrictions on imported items makes it challenging to get high quality and/or non-Argentine-produced products here. 

  • Tramites. There are so many appointments to do things here and so many places where you must go in person to pay bills/get addresses changed/request a new card, etc. While there are services/payments that can be done online and some neighborhood pay stations, it is still not widespread yet and these things certainly cannot be done by mail like it can in the USA.
  • Colas. No, not a soda-pop cola. A line or a queue. You will wait in lines and you need to be patient and wait (see above for tramites). Bring a book or your knitting, you will need it. (If you have a baby with you though, you get to go to the front of the line. No kidding.)  In many places phones are banned by law so that won’t save you.
  • Siesta Still after 4 years in South America, I am not yet accustomed to the siesta. As North Americans, I like things to be open when I want them to be open. The fact that I can’t get groceries or go to the doctor in my neighborhood during the middle of the day is insane. Almost every business in our neighborhood is closed from 1:00 or 1:30 until 5 PM. The exception to this is the big box stores (Walmart/Easy/Carrefour) and the larger grocery store/pharmacy/restaurant chains. The bright side is that if somewhere IS open during siesta, you’ll have it to yourself during those hours.
  • Restaurant Hours If you want to eat dinner early, you are out of luck. This is not unique to Argentina but sometimes, we want to eat out or order delivery before 8 PM. No luck. Most restaurants open at 8 PM and most Argentines do not eat dinner until 9 or later.

So, those are a few of the pros and cons from our perspective- in no particular order. Leave a comment to let us know your experiences and what you agree or disagree with from our lists. If you live somewhere else and love it, tell us why.

Video Interview with 3/4 of the URMovingWhere Family

We were recently interviewed by Coley Hudgins for the website as a part of their new feature on other bloggers’ stories. Happy to say that we were the first for this honor!

Click here for the same video on the Movingabroadwithchildren site and check out the other great features/resources there. Also see the Coley’s new site with even more great info for families living abroad at http://www.theresilientfamily.com/

It was fun to be a part of their first interview!