Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Avocado Dilemma

I don't feel like I would be out of line in saying that most Texans really like guacamole. Most of us were raised on the stuff and would eat it on almost anything. (Notice, I said "most." I know there are a few who won't eat it no matter what). We like it with tomatoes and without. With cilantro and without. Plopped in our queso. Piled on our enchiladas. On our eggs in the morning. On our hamburgers in the afternoon. On chip after chip after chip. And even just eaten off a spoon. It is one of the first table foods I have served all of my children. And, it's just plain yummy!

So, here in Brazil, they've got avocados. Huge avocados. In abundance. But the only way they ever serve them is blended up like a milkshake, with lots of sugar added. This isn't bad, I guess, but it's NOT guacamole! Jeff and I (in our sercret fatalistic plan to revolutionize Brazil) have tried to teach our friends the "real" way to enjoy these fabulous fruits, but they aren't having any part of it. Most of them won't even consider trying it when they find out what it is. And, there is no such thing as a tortilla here, much less a tortilla chip, so finding an appropriate substrate for handing out samples is a bit of a challenge.

But, we will not be deterred. If the Brazilians will not embrace this green goodness, then we will make it for ourselves, in the privacy of our own apartment. And we might even stage our own private revolution by topping our Brazilian black beans with a dollop or two just for spite.

Friday, August 29, 2008

What's Labor Day weekend without a picnic on the beach?

For the record, there is no Labor Day holiday here in Brazil, and it's winter here--meaning it gets dark early and it's a bit chilly when the sun goes behind the bulidings. But these minor little details didn't keep us from having a nice little family picnic on the beach--complete with homemade southern-style fried chicken and homemade potato salad (but not like Granny makes, because who can duplicate her perfect recipe?! Especially since I don't recall ever having seen a pickle in Brazil). We received no end of odd stares from the Brazilians, because 1). they don't really have picnics on the beach, at least not in the winter and 2). no self-respecting Brazilian would ever be caught dead eating dinner at 5:30 in the afternoon! Ah, but we had fun! And, as a bonus, it was Max's first time to get down in the sand! He loved it! Hope you all have a wonderful Labor Day weekend!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Know what's hard?

Giving birth to yourself. And then watching as your little genetic clone struggles with the same personality--flaws is not really the right word, I don't think--difficulties, lets say, that you have tried to (are trying to, will be trying to) overcome. I watched heartbroken (and somewhat horrified) today as Ruth streached a 20-minute spelling lesson out for almost an hour, beating herself up, crying her eyes out and erasing holes in the paper. I encouraged her that she was doing well. I begged her to consider leaving off this lesson for today and coming back to it tomorrow, when she might have a new perspective. I sat there knowing just exactly how she felt and not being able to do a thing in the world about it. She wanted the letters to be perfect. They looked great to me. But to her, they weren't perfect, and no amount of cajoling could persuade her otherwise. I have struggled with this same perfectionism my whole life, in certain areas. I have wadded up countless pieces of paper with only the slightest mistake on them. In high school, I always wrote my final draft first, and then went back and wrote the outline because I didn't want anything to be incomplete. As recently as yesterday, I felt this need to get things "just right" almost overwhelming me. But I am a grown up, and I have learned (am learning, will be learning) that everything doesn't always have to be perfect. Having children has helped a lot with that. But watching Ruth struggle with herself in this way is almost more than I can bear. I, of course, want her to always do her best, but by no means do I expect perfection. How can I teach her to love herself and to accept her best as her best?! How can I model that for her in my own life, when I feel the same way she feels?!

Oh, Lord, please help me! This is beyond my strength and beyond my knowledge. It is too much for me. But I know it is not too difficult for you! Touch my little girl's heart and let her know that You love her (and her too-fat "d") just the way she (it) is, and that that is enough. And while you're at it, touch my heart as well.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

My Right-Hand Man

One of the challenges of doing homeschool with Ruth is what to do with Weston. We try to include him in as many of the lessons as possible by giving him little assignments and engaging him in the stories, but his attention span is only so long, and my fear is that he will begin to feel neglected. To combat this, I make a point of spending some time doing something with just him during the day. To this end, he has become my right-hand man. Today, he helped with the laundry--oh the thrill of pushing the elevator button, riding on the elevator, carrying the detergent, loading the washer and dryer, peering down into the floor drain, putting lint in the trash can and watching the things in the dryer go round and round! Things only a child can truly appreciate, because as adults these things have managed to become a chore rather than a never-ending supply of adventure and fun. He also helped with defrosting the freezer, weilding the hairdryer like a soldier on a mission and delighting at the drip of water onto his toes and the floor. Not to mention the satisfying crash of huge chunks of ice being thrown into the sink. And he also helped me unload the groceries, carrying the heavy bags to the kitchen like a man and inspecting the contents to ensure our dining pleasure in the days to come. It was beautiful to watch his enthusiasm for these things, even as my enthusiasm waned. He enjoyed the day as much as any we've had on the beach or in the pool or being out and about, and he was so proud of himself for being such a good helper. I was reminded to find joy in the mudane and that it's not so much about the task but about the attitude with which it is approached. (Laundry can be fun. Say it with me). It was humbling and exhilerating and really sort of freeing. But best of all was spending a portion of the day with my little man and knowing that there is nothing else on earth that he would rather do than spend some time with me.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Kissing Culture

Brazil is one of those kissing countries. You know, a peck on each cheek, in greeting. Or is it a peck only on one cheek, when departing?! No one really knows. (Really. I asked). It's all very awkward and confusing. (Jeff lives in fear that he will zig when he should have zagged). At least here there doesn't seem to be the added akwardness of men kissing men. (Unlike Uruguay, which Jeff has ruled out as a possible destination for us based a departure cheek-kiss he received the other day from a young Uruguyan man). Add language confusion to kissing confusion and you've got real trouble. For instance, a week ago, while staying at a church campground up in the mountains, some ladies came to assist us with getting our room set up. They asked Jeff if he wanted a berco [beh-soo] (baby bed). Familiar only with the similar word beijo [bay-joo] (kiss), he turned two shades of red and reluctantly said, "sure." He was surprised when, instead of receiving a nice kiss on the cheek, the ladies left and returned a few moments later with a crib for Max. Jeff was spared the awkward kissing, but we've had no end of good laughs.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Perfect Ten

Jeff and I celebrated our ten-year anniversary on Friday. We were only 21 when we got married, and a lot of people thought we were sort of crazy. And I guess we might have been, but all we knew was that we were crazy about each other. And every day since that day, we have continued to be crazy about each other. And, amazingly, we love each other more now than we did then. I can't imagine anything more fun than the last ten years, and I'm really looking forward to the next ten (and the ten after that, and so on)!

"Grow old along wih me! The best is yet to be...!" --Robert Browning

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Going Commando

It's been a hard week in the underwear department. And laundry rules being what they are, Weston ran completely out of underwear. So, this morning I told him it looked like he was going to have to wear a pull-up until at least after the first load of laundry could get out of the dryer. He was heartbroken. I mean, what self-respecting big boy could possibly bear such degredation?! I then told him the only other choice was to go without. He readily agreed to this arrangement, so I laughingly told Jeff that Weston was "going commando" today. Later, with the underwear clean and dry and ready to wear, we heard this statement from Weston: "If the commandos take my diapers, I can wear my underwear." Not sure who these "commandos" are, but Weston is definitely in favor of them if it means he can either wear or not wear underwear--anything as long as he doesn't have to go through the humiliating act of wearing a diaper during daylight hours.

Monday, August 18, 2008

First Day of First Grade

Well, today was the official first day of school at the Watts Academy. And it was so much fun--for everyone! I think a lot of you out there are wondering what exactly we're doing, so I'm going to tell you. We are following the curriculum presented in a book called The Well-Trained Mind, which we highly reccomend for anyone who has ever even considered the homeschool option or who is just interested in supplementing a regular school curriculum. We have tweaked the suggested schedules and subject matter to fit our family and situation best. We have decided to adopt a flexible schedule (for obvious reasons), rather than a fixed schedule--which means that instead of always having Math at, say, 9:00, we have Math for 40 minutes per day. Period. We may get it done first thing in the morning, or it might get pushed to the afternoon, depending on our needs on any given day. (Although we are attempting to have a consistent start time and to keep the classes more or less consecutive, when possible). Here's the class breakdown:

Math--40 min. M-F
History--90 min. T/Th
Spelling--20 min. M-Th
Grammar--25 min. M-Th
Free Reading--30 min. M-F
Science--60 min. M/W
Structured Reading--30 min. M-F
Portuguese--30 min. M-F
Art--60 min. M

In addition to our regular Monday schedule, we also managed to work in a little economics (trip to the store) and P.E. (play on the beach) today to round out our day. I'm sure there will be days when one or all of us are wondering why we ever thought this would be a good idea, but for the most part, we are all really excited and feel like we are doing the right thing for us at this time. We don't have any pictures of Ruth dolled out in new school clothes or with a brand new backpack, but we did manage to snap a few pics of her first day. (Which you will have to check out on flickr, because Blogger won't let me put them here). Check back often to keep up with Ruth's (and our) progress through First Grade.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

One for the books

Jeff and I thought it would be a good idea to have Ruth start memorizing the books of the Bible, so after lunch today I picked up the whiteboard marker and prepared to make a list. To our complete surprise, Ruth was able to name the first 14 books for me without any assistence. We haven't really worked on this with her before, so we asked how she knew the books and the order. She shrugged her shoulders and very flippantly responded, "Well, I read the table of contents in my Bible." By the end of the day, she could say the first 22 books without looking. (She may or may not have even done better than Jeff and I).

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

First Grade Preview

We are planning to start our homeschool curriculum with Ruth on Monday, so Jeff and I have been busy talking, organizing, looking through material and getting all the supplies ready in the last couple of weeks. We are excited (and also a little nervous, truth be told), and the excitement seems to have caught on. Today Ruth asked if she could "just do one Spelling lesson for practice". By the end of the day, she had done three Spelling lessons, a Math lesson and an introductory History lesson. And she had looked through the Science book on her own with Weston. We literally had to make her stop. She's so motivated, and that is so very neat to see! She will be an easy student to teach (I hope) because she loves to learn. We are all looking forward to this experience and will keep you posted on our journey through First Grade.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Monday, August 11, 2008

Trinta e um

We made the birthday official today. 31. Wow. Not nearly as hard to take as 30, I can tell you. Of course, pretty much anything is easy to take when you've got the beach in your backyard! Anyway, I thought we had done all of our celebrating yesterday, but today was pretty fun in it's own right. Jeff and the kids wanted to take me shopping (at "the shopping," which is how they say "mall" here). I found a couple of really cute skirts, two pairs of shoes (one of which is red and oh so cute!), and a long-sleeved shirt for our next trip to the mountains this coming weekend. I'm a size 40 in skirts and 38 in shoes, in case you were wondering. (I will also be picking up a cute bag I saw yesterday at one of the beach vendors on our next outing). After the praise service at church tonight, I wanted to ask for prayer for a special blessing for my birthday. I thought maybe one or two of the men would pray for me, but about 100 people ended up staying behind after the service to pray for me, which touched me in an incredible way. Not only that, they all filed past me afterward with hugs and kind words--in English and Portuguese. Again, the love I have been shown here overwhelms me. After the service, the five of us and a few of our friends went out for pizza and had a wonderful time. And then when we got home, I found that I had voice mails galore from many family members calling with birthday wishes. I called them back and enjoyed very much getting to talk to all of them. What a blessed life and what a happy birthday!!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Birthday Eve

Well, tomorrow is my birthday, but we decided to do our celebrating today, since we had pretty much the whole day free. We walked down the beach at lunchtime to a happening little restaurant that serves a fabulous local dish called moqueca. We had the lobster moqueca, and it was the best we've ever eaten. Then we went next door to the ice cream shop. After that we wandered through the little booths of beach vendors. Ruth arranged with her dad (but completely of her own initiative) to buy me a fresh coconut water, and I picked up a beautiful little piece of sand and shell art that is now hanging proudly on my wall. Then, we made our way back to the apartment, stopping to watch a man take off in his hang glider. (I'm so glad we didn't arrive a few minutes sooner or we would have been numbered among the witnesses that saw a city bus run over a motorcycle and it's rider, and I think that would have been quite traumatic for the children. We arrived on the scene just as the ambulance was driving away, and the children never really did know why that big group of people was standing around by the side of the road). Once we arrived at home, we all took a nice nap. We went to a beautiful church service this evening and then came back to the apartment for mango pie. It was a fun day, and I'm so thankful I got to share it with my beautiful family.

*More pictures on flickr.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Another Lesson In Brazilian Culture

We were talking to some friends of ours the other day and mentioned that Jeff is the primary (and better) cook in our family. They thought this was great and invited him to cook for them in their home. We set the party up for last night. On Wednesday evening, they mentioned to us that another family had invited themselves over and that they would join us for dinner and for a short Bible study. No problem. We would have to pick up a few more things at the store, but that was easily done. We arrived at our friends' house around 5:00, so that we could have a Portuguese lesson before the other festivities. The other family was scheduled to arrive around 7:30.

At 8:30, our friends called and found out the other family just leaving their house. They arrived a few minutes later, and informed us that they had invited another couple to join us and that they would arrive shortly. Jeff and I exchanged glances, hoping there would be enough food for everyone. Around 9:00, we began the Bible study, and dinner was served at about 10:30. The Brazilian children were not fond of the dish Jeff prepared, so their parents gave them cookies for dinner instead. Then, multiple bowls of ice cream for dessert. (And, I can tell you, we were not looked on favorably for withholding these indulgences from our children). Our children were completely exhausted, but our hosts wouldn't hear of us leaving until they had served coffee--at 11:30! We got home and got the children put to bed right around midnight. This is Brazilian culture. It's just what you do. (And not just on weekends)! And this is how we know we will never really be Brazilian.

We also had an opportunity to learn something else interesting today at lunchtime, when we served sandwiches to our Brazilian guests: You never serve bread (i.e. sandwiches) at lunchtime. They only eat it for breakfast and for an afternoon snack. Good to know.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Game On

Having conquered (more or less) the realm of the horizontal, Max has decided it's time for a new challenge, and he's going vertical. (Never mind that he skipped the sitting stage entirely)! He has begun to go over to furniture and pull himself up onto his knees. From this vantage point, he can reach (and pull down) all the books from the shelf, which he then fervently crams into his mouth until they begin to turn into an ooey, gooey mess. We have also seen him pull up to a standing position a couple of times from his knees, which just blows us away. (I mean, he's not quite 7-months-old, for crying out loud)! He hasn't cracked his head open yet, thank goodness, but I feel sure that day is coming. Jeff has long predicted that Max will be our earliest walker, and it looks like he may be right. One thing's for sure, my full-time job has just gone into overtime! But even more difficult than that is seeing my itty, bitty baby grow up so fast!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Just Like Dad

The other day Weston said, "When I grow up, I want to be a computer man. And when I get older, I will get to push buttons on the computer." Like father, like son. Here is a picture of the two of them computing together:

Sunday, August 03, 2008

New pics (and a new look) available for your viewing pleasure


Saturday, August 02, 2008

Birthday Party, Brazilian-Style

One of the greatest things about traveling abroad is getting to experience different cultures and to see how people do things differently. Brazilian culture is certainly different from American culture and here's a perfect example:

We were invited to a birthday party for a five-year-old, which was to be held tonight. The party started at 9:00 pm. There were no less than 100 people there. And the sugar-filled goodies were supplied in abundance--with no parent making any attempt to curtail any child's consumption of such, and many encouraging each child (whether their own or not) to have more. Jeff and I are all about a good birthday party, but we sat in a corner with two other American couples with our jaws on the floor, unable to process what we were seeing. We left early (about 10:15), using the baby as an excuse, but there were still children running around everywhere and almost literally bouncing off the walls. And now I'm wondering whom of my American friends is willing to volunteer to bring this aspect of Brazilian culture to America? Go ahead and raise your hands. We are all interested in knowing who among us is so crazy. But crazy or not, it was a fun party, and I'm sure little Simon will remember it with fondness, at least until next year's bash.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Just the Highlights

I want so badly to tell you about our day in a witty and charming way, but it's after midnight here, and after a full, fun and somewhat frustrating day, I just don't have it in me. So, here are the highlights:
  • Received a supicious certified letter in the mail, which turned out to be a warning and fairly hefty fine for a violation of the laundry rules. No, I'm not kidding.
  • Had the power turned off in our apartment for several hours because of an outstanding bill. Not our outstanding bill, mind you. But that didn't seem to matter. So, we had to figure out how to get the bill paid, get our power turned back on and contact the condo owner to try to get it all straightened out--all in Portuguese. (Thank goodness for our friends who helped us out so much)!
  • Had a lovely playgroup meeting at the beach.
  • Attended our first Portuguese tutoring session at the home of a kind and generous family, and stayed to have a "snack" with them afterward. Full-blown meal is more like it--with cake, rolls, sweet bread, meat, cheese, yogurt, coffee, soft drinks, chocolate milk, etc. This afternoon "snack" seems to be the Brazilian norm.
  • Received our new phone. We now have two--a "home" phone and a cell phone. They are actually both cell phones, but one works better for local calls and the other better for international calls. Jeff has literally been working on our phone situation since the first day we got here, so we are hoping this is the end of that on-going saga.
  • Hosted our first dinner party in our new home, showing off Jeff's now-incredible churrasco skills.
  • Recevied notice that the water will be off in our building all day tomorrow.
  • Looked at the ocean and listened to the waves crash long after the beach lights had been turned off, meaning it is now way, way past bedtime.