Sunday, November 30, 2008

Ordem e Progresso*

Here are a few of my observations of customs, cultural ideas and ways of doing things from our time here in Brazil. This is, obviously, just based on the small circle we run in and therefore may not apply to all Brazilians. It is also not intended to be condemning in any way. This is not an exhaustive list, but maybe it will give some of you a small idea of what life is like here.

  • Coffee is good for you. There are placards on all the tables in a particular restaurant we frequent that say: "Three cups of coffee per day is the ideal to maintain a constant level of energy." Also, there may be work to be done, but not until we've had our coffee (with as much sugar and milk as actual coffee).
  • Rain is dangerous for babies. A lady chased me down outside of church the other night in order to cover Max's head with an umbrella for all of the 10 steps it took to get to our friend's car. When I jokingly told her, "It's just water." She looked appalled and explained to me that rain is dangerous for babies.
  • Babies need at least three baths per day, always followed by a clothes change. This only applies to Brazilian children. I feel like we're doing pretty good if the kids get a bath every other day or so.
  • I AM going to help you. Sounds nice enough, but sometimes it would be better to have no help at all. For instance, one time Jeff went to the store with an acquaintance of ours to pick up some things for a party we were having. He thought that while he was there, he would just go ahead and pick up some things for another party we were having the following day. He wanted to get meat for the grill, but when said acquaintance saw the cut of meat he picked up, he offered the help of a man he knows who is a butcher. Jeff thought this might be a good idea. So, the acquaintance called the brother of the butcher and found out the butcher wasn't working that day. No matter, the brother (a shoe salesman) was willing to help. They picked up the shoe salesman and went right back to the same store they just left and picked out the exact same cut of meat Jeff had in the first place (two hours later).
  • The water from the sink is very dangerous to drink. But it's perfect for washing dishes and bodies and for brushing teeth. And in every case, except for bodies, it's always cold. (We, by the way, have not used filtered water during our time here and have not been sick even once).
  • And speaking of washing bodies: Apparently, it's not a bad idea to have live, exposed wiring running to the shower head to heat the water.
  • It is, however, dangerous to pump your own gas. This is why we felt so much safer the time we rented a car and were almost run over by no fewer than 3 other cars as we followed the direction of the numerous attendants.
  • It becomes too hot to play on the playground at exactly 11:00 am.
  • Babies should never cry, meaning they should be held every minute or fed candy at the first sign of whimpering or suck on a pacifier until well into their teens.
  • It is winter, therefore your baby is cold. Even though he's sweating. Every single day of winter, some Brazilian lady stopped me to comment on how cold Max must be. I was even given a bag of clothes and socks (for all the children) to "hopefully help."
  • It is unsanitary and impolite to drink directly from a can or bottle. Instead, you will be issued a flimsy 6 oz. plastic cup in which to pour your drink. Or, if it's a really nice restaurant, you will be issued a 6 oz. glass cup. They don't do large drinking vessels here.
  • It is unnecessary to refrigerate eggs and milk. And, apparently, meat as well. Probably a fourth of all the meat we've bought since we've been here has been bad when we've opened it.
  • High heels are not optional. They are necessary footwear for all women over the age of 12, regardless of time of day or destination.
  • Pumpkin is always used in savory dishes; avocado always sweet.
  • Corn can be used in sweet dishes or savory and can be served anywhere, anytime. Corn yogurt, anyone?
  • Mozzerella cheese is the only cheese you need.
  • Cleanliness really is next to godliness. There is some obsesive cleaning going on here.
  • But that's o.k. becuase the full-time maid will take care of it. Where we are, it's unheard of not to have full-time domestic help. In the midst of a conversation about this once, a man found out we didn't have anyone to help us here or back in the U.S. and with the utmost concern asked, "So your house just stays with the dust?!" Yes. Yes, it does.
  • There are no mops. Floors are cleaned by pouring gallons of soapy water all over and then sweeping it around with a broom, and then going back over it with a long-handled squeegie covered with a (threadbare) hand towel.
  • Why hire one person to do the job if you can hire 10 to do the same thing? We are nothing here if not over-staffed.
  • Old people and people with children ALWAYS go to the front of the line. This has worked in our favor (obviously), but it has also worked against us. Once, when attempting to pay the condo bill (at the lottery store, which is where that bill must be paid), Jeff had to give up his spot in line five or six times to old men coming in to see if they won big. By the time he got to the front of the line the whole system had gone down, making it impossible to pay the bill and forcing him to have to go through the routine yet again.
  • There is almost no chance that someone will pick you up when they say they will. Once, we were supposed to have someone pick us up at 3:00. At 4:00 we called to see where the driver was. The man we talked to said he hadn't left the office yet. When we inquired as to when he might be leaving the office, we were told that he hadn't actually arrived at the office yet. I think he was (unapologeticly) 1 1/2 or 2 hours late that day. This is not uncommon. If you call a cab, they always say they will be there in 5 minutes. That hasn't ever actually happened yet.
  • 9:00 is an acceptable dinner time. 10:00 is better. Restaurants don't even open for dinner until 6:00, and if you show up then, you are guarunteed to have the place to yourself.
*This is the motto for Brazil. It means "Order and Progress," and it may very well be the least accurate motto ever.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

End of the birthday season

Well, I think we have just about wrapped up our birthday celebrating for the month of November. We had Weston's last hurrah yesterday at a cool indoor playground, which we are considering as a design for our new house. It has everything: a way to keep Max trapped and happy and safe, a huge air trampoline that would make a killer bed, and plenty of entertainment for the kiddos. And let us not forget more staff than you can shake a stick at (in true Brazilian fashion). Then today, we celebrated Ruth's half-birthday with breakfast out at her favorite place, lunch at McDonald's and a trip to the mall for some accessories. I can't believe how quickly these kids are growing up!

Check out pictures of these events and others on flickr, if you're interested.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

American Thaksgiving Brazilian Style

Today we got together with several of our friends--some other misplaced Americans, some Brazilians, and even a couple from Uzbekistan--for a multicultural American feast. Jeff and I brought the dressing and pumpkin pie, neither of which had ever even been heard of before here, but which went over pretty well. (Pumpkin is never used in sweet dishes here--only savory dishes, like meat and pasta). We had chicken instead of turkey, but otherwise, it was fairly traditional and very good. We conversed in English and Portuguese (though, thankfully, not Russian) and had a lovely time. We have so much to be thankful for, and we praise the Lord for all the blessings He has given us! Hope you are doing the same today. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

My Sweet Weston:

The day dawned bright and fair today, and the sun shone all day long, obviously in honor of your special day. (This was literally the first day we've had in November that wasn't cloudy and/or rainy, and rain is predicted again for tomorrow). It was three years ago today that you easily and peacefully made your way into this world. And you have remained at ease and at peace ever since. You are a beautiful child. And delightful. (And I'm not just saying that because I'm your mother)! You love hot dogs. And yellow. And sleep. (Even on this, your third birthday, "nap" was on your list of things to definitely do). You adore your big sister and are so fond of your little brother. You are a joy to everyone who knows you. You are built like a tank, but have the softest little heart. You love to tinker. And you have an eye for fashion as well. You are a natural in the water and with any kind of ball. You have a tendency towards clumsiness, but you usually get up smiling, ready to try again. You are a joker, and your laugh is contagious. You always want to help and often look for opportunities to share. You prefer to sit in someone's lap, if possible. And you take comfort from your baby and your special "Do-Do-Do" song. You love to wrestle with your dad, and you often show your affection for him in the form of a punch to the gut. Thankfully, you instinctively know that form of affection wouldn't go over well with your mom, so with me, you give spontaneous hugs and kisses without reserve. You love to watch the slideshow of pictures I have as a screensaver on my computer, and in fact, that is the only "video" that will hold your attention for any length of time. You observe the world, quietly taking it all in. And then you astound us with some new fact or observation we didn't even know you had picked up. You have such an incredible enthusiasm for life that is a joy to watch. You are such a blessing to my life, and I can see the Lord working in you already to make you into a man after His own heart. I am so very proud of you--for all that you are and for all that I know you will be! Thanks for picking me to be your mom and for letting me be a part of your wonderful little life. I love you so much!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I can't draw, but I can read

I would call myself creative but definitely NOT artistic. In fact, the depth of my artistic ineptitude is pretty astounding. I can't even make a proper stick figure. And this doesn't really make me sad. It's not really a skill I have ever even wanted to develop. That is, until I was elected as the Art Teacher. Talk about the blind leading the blind. I sort of agonized over this at first, thinking, "What can I possibly teach in an hour a week?!" My next reaction was just to blow it off, with statements like, "It's just art, afterall. It's not like it really matters." But finally, I decided to embrace the art class, not just as something I could teach Ruth, but as something I myself could learn. And I told Ruth this upfront, which she loved. We encourage each other, and it's fun. We also use a fantastic book, which has step-by-step instructions and operates on multiple levels. And I've learned something amazing about myself: I can't draw, but I can read! And if I can read (and follow directions), I can make pictures that look like actual recognizable objects! It's so cool! (Kind of reminds me of when I got married and my mom worried that I wouldn't be able to cook. I told her that I didn't need to know how to cook because I could read and I could follow a recipe--which is a cooking philosophy that has worked beautifully for me for 10 years, thank you very much)! During the course of more than one art class this semester, I have been completely flabbergasted at what has presented itself as I have followed the instructions along with Ruth. And so, now, it's show-and-tell time. I am, by the way, not only enamored with my own drawings, but am also very impressed at the things Ruth has turned out. But, I brag on her all the time, and almost never on myself, so this post is just about me. This lesson was an audio/visual. I would read the instructions out loud and look at the visual. Then, I would draw what was explained in each step (without having practiced previously). Ruth listened to the instructions, and then copied each step from my drawing on the board. I thought it turned out pretty nice, especially for someone who doesn't have one ounce of natural talent!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Rainy Season

Apparently, we are in some sort of freakish rainy season here in Vila Velha, the likes of which haven't been seen for more than 10 years! It's the craziest thing I've ever seen! (Except for maybe one Hawaiian vacation we went on a few years ago). And it's not just rain, but also gale-force wind and pretty chilly temps. We have seen water up over the bumpers of large trucks and up to doors on cars. We have seen rain water shooting in under our closed windows, soaking our bedroom floor and my side of the bed. An umbrella took flight up and over our balcony this afternoon. And the sea is angry, my friends. And there seems to be no sign of it letting up anytime soon. Needless to say, we are hunkered down in our little apartment, hoping an opportunity will present itself for an outing to the grocery store sometime in the next few days, which will be necessary since we are almost out of coffee and I am now calling myself a drinker of that vile liquid. (Jeff would beg to differ. He seems to think that adding equal--or mostly equal--parts coffee and chocolate to my cup of warm milk and sugar doesn't really count).

Sunday, November 23, 2008

You're Gonna Miss This

The words to this song keep running through my head. It's such a perspective-giver when the baby is screaming for no apparent reason. When the big boy spills most of his pasta on the floor trying to get it to the table and pitches a fit at the drop of a hat. When the little lady is sporting a 'tude. When I don't see eye to eye with the hubby. Because all of those moments are fleeting. But so are all the other moments that I cherish. Like when the baby gives me slobbery baby kisses and big, happy smiles. And when the big boy crawls up in my lap to give me a hug and tell me he loves me so much. And when all my little lady wants out of life is to be just like me. And when my hubby finds some new way to show he cares after 10 years of marriage. It's a good life, made up of good moments, and I don't want to squander those moments by wishing them away or not taking full advantage of them. I want to make the most of this time. Because someday I am going to miss it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Another Month of School

Here are the highlights:
  • Virtual frog dissection
  • Up to 90 words on Vocabulary Wall
  • Wrote a creative story using vocabulary words
  • Prepared Ancient Egyptian feast
  • Several guest teachers
  • Fall Break
  • King Tut Treasure Hunt
  • 6 poems memorized (since the beginning of school)
  • List of Pharaohs memorized
  • Memorized kings of Judah
  • Finished First Grade Grammar
  • Introduced cursive writing
  • "What Do Ants Eat" Science experiment

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Misadventures of F.T. Baby

Yesterday, we were doing a room swap with the kids to get things back to pre-visitor conditions. F.T.* was following me around (as always), cramming things into his mouth as often as possible and pulling things down from any reachable surface (as always). Back and forth we went, trying to restore some sense of order, but really just producing more chaos. About the time I heard a little distress cry, I realized I hadn't tripped over any small people in the last few steps. More crying alerted me that there was indeed a problem. So, I retraced my steps, knowing he wouldn't be far behind. The crying grew louder, but the baby did not present himself. "How do you lose a baby in 600 sq. ft.?!" you ask. Well, you trap him in the closet, of course! On my last trip through the kids' room, I had very carefully and diliberately closed the closet door to keep Max out of there. And wouldn't you know that I actually closed him up! When I opened the door, I found him completely heart-broken, sitting in a carry-on suitcase, looking pathetic and adorable. And don't you know I felt like the world's worst mommy! But, I don't really think Max was that traumatized, since he has not backed off of his closet (or any other) explorations in the least. At least now I know where to find him if he comes up missing!

*F.T. Baby is the nickname we have given Max, because he is Full-Time like you can't believe!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

Good-byes are hard.

...And that's all I have to say about that.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Date Night

Date nights have been pretty limited since we've been here in Brazil. In fact, we've had just one--on our anniversary. So, when my mom arrived and announced that she wanted us to get to have a date night while she was here, we jumped at the chance. Thanks to she and my grandmother, we were able to go out on the town last night without the kids--and it was wonderful! (Not that we don't enjoy hanging out with the kids. But, every once in a while a couple just needs some alone time). We knew exactly where we wanted to go, so after church we hopped in a taxi and headed over to a Portuguese restaurant that is owned by a man we know. It was closed tight along with everything else in that part of town, possibly because of the holiday that was being observed yesterday. So, we began scrambling for a "Plan B." We knew of an area where there were lots of restaurants so we just had the cabbie drop us off on that street. The first restaurant we wandered into turned out to be exactly what we had had for lunch, so we decided to pass and move on. Very near there was a little juice bar we've been wanting to try, so we popped in there to regroup, while we sipped some fresh juice and enjoyed some English conversation with the Canadian owner. Then we just started strolling down the street to see what we might find. We came upon a quiant little Italian place and decided to give it a try. They were VERY busy, so the service wasn't fantastic, but the food was wonderful and the atmosphere was really neat. The whole evening was really nice! And, as a bonus, we are just a really cute couple. Don't you agree?! Thanks, Mom and Granny, for giving us a night out. It was really a special treat!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Another Day, Another Adventure

We rented a car and drove up into the mountains today to see what we could see. And all that we could see can't possibly be put down in words. So, once again, you are getting the slide show version. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. We stopped at many scenic lookouts, a spectacular coffee/cheese farm, a breathtaking resort, a beautiful waterfall and an orchid farm, just to name the hightlights. We saw some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen, and came home with quite a few fun souvenirs and lots of special memories.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Behind Again, But Soaring Ahead

Oh friends, I can't believe how long it's been since I've posted--again. Time is just slipping away from me. But my official excuse is all the fun company we've had here with us. Jeff's parents left on Saturday and my mom and grandmother arrived on Monday. It's just one constant party around here, I tell you. But I had to write tonight to tell you some big school news. Ruth finished her first grade grammar book!! She will move on to second grade next week. (We will do a little review tomorrow, and she doesn't have that class on Friday). We are so proud of the progress she is making with her schoolwork! She is excelling in every subject and, quite frankly, blowing our minds! I just hope we can keep up with her as time goes by. She's easily smarter than I am, and I'm not sure how long I can keep the bluff up.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

So Many Things, So Little Time

Hi there, Friends! Have you missed me? I've missed you. It's been a whirlwind of activity around here the last few days. We've been having some serious fun, and I just haven't had it in me at the end of the day to sit down and visit with you. And even now I don't have time to tell you in detail about all that we've been doing, so you will have to settle for the highlights and a slideshow. There are tons more pictures on flickr, if you're interested, and of course you can e-mail me or leave a comment if you'd like to have more details.

What we've been up to:
  • Make-your-own-moqueca party--picked out lobsters, cut tails off lobsters, cooked lobsters and turned them into yummy moqueca, followed by guava cream cake for dessert.
  • Lots of park play.
  • Used all my tiles in one of our Scrabble games, giving me my all-time best score, but only a narrow victory.
  • Finally captured a photo of the safe salesman's set-up.
  • Had dinner at a fantastic little restaurant, loaded with atmosphere and yummy food.
  • Rented a car and had our first Brazilian driving experience--attempted to go straight from a left-hand turning lane, almost got hit by a bus, almost hit a bicyclist, navigated by laptop and made it everywhere we wanted to go safe and sound.
  • Accidentally visited a minimalistic art gallery, which turned out kind of cool and also made us laugh.
  • Visited the train museum and dreamed about making a home out of an old train.
  • Shopped at the big fancy grocery store that is not within walking distance, taking full advantage of our rental car.
  • Had a couple of wild entries and exits from the parking garage at the apartment.
  • Discovered the secret to Brazilian military success: Train in Speedos.
  • Drove up into the mountains to hike at Pedra Azul and take in the sights at Vista Linda.
  • Witnessed what sounded like the painful death of my camera. Will be learning how to take still shots with the video camera.
  • Wilderness potty experience.
  • Goat road block.
  • Ate something called "bobo" (which is very much like moqueca, only way better) and Creme de Papaya at this quiet little beach restaurant about 4o miles south of here.
  • Shell hunting by moonlight (and beach light).
  • Sorted through possessions to see what we could send back to the States with Jeff's parents. (They apparently sorted through them again at the airport, but were eventually able to take them all along with them after shuffling them around).
  • Said a tearful good-bye to the grandparents.
  • Experienced a rockin' storm--complete with sky-to-ocean lightening, wall-rattling thunder, dime-size hail and water coming in even with the windows closed--after just having had a conversation with Jeff's parents in which we said "We have never heard it thunder here and we have never seen lightening, even with all the rain."

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Monday, November 03, 2008


This morning, my mother-in-law and I decided to have a kid-free outing. We hopped in a cab and headed over to an area of town known as "Gloria," that has a reputation as sort of a shopping mecca. There are many shops of every kind, and the prices are really good. I wish I had the words to describe it for you. It's just street after street and block after block of huge variety stores, small specialty stores, and mazes of every kind of shop in between. We saw one whole store devoted to buttons and zippers. There were gobs of shoe stores and as many clothing stores. There was a store where they sold nothing but store fixtures, including an army of manequins. There were jewlery stores and hardware stores and junk stores and baby stores (to name but a few), not to mention a whole section of street vendors. It was almost more than we could take in. In fact, we feel as if we certainly didn't see everything there was to see. But, we had a blast and arrived home with a few treasures. One of the highlights was when Sharon bought a pair of shoes for Ruth and I asked if she could pay by credit card. "Yes," the lady replied, as she put the shoes in a bag. Then, she left the store, motioning for us to follow her. We walked down to the end of the block and entered another shoe store, which must have been the official credit card running location. So funny! This outing was also a really great opportunity for me to practice my Portuguese, and I thought I was doing really well until someone said, "Fala muito bem!" Oh well. Guess I'll keep practicing. At least I got us there and back safely and soundly, and with another fun adventure under our belts.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Fala Muito Bem

Jeff has a theory that goes like this: If you are speaking Portuguese to a native Portuguese speaker and they say, "Fala Portuguese muito bem," ("You speak Portuguese very well") what that really means is: "Your Portuguese stinks, but I want you to feel like I appreciate the fact that you are trying"--because if you really spoke Portuguese very well, they wouldn't say anything at all.

So, this morning in church, I was singing my little heart out (in Portuguese). Eventually, the man next to me turned to me, gave me the thumbs up sign and said simply, "Muito bem." And now I don't know which stinks more, my Portuguese or my singing!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Red Letter Day

Today is Jeff's birthday!! And what a fun day it was. The big kids and Sharon and I went to the bakery this morning to pick out a cake. There were many delectable and beautiful choices, but we finally decided on the chocolate cake and a mini bite-sized flan. The kids and Sharon made a very regal crown for the Birthday Boy, which he gamely wore and even posed for a picture or two with. For lunch, we all hopped in a cab and headed over to Vitoria to one of our favorite churrascarias. The food was fantastic, as always. Then, we made our way back to Vila Velha, where we stopped in to see what we could find at the beach vendor stands. There weren't many vendors out today because of the ominous clouds threatening to dump their contents at any moment, but Jeff still found a few DVDs to bring home. Back at the apartment, we opened gifts, sang "Happy Birthday" in English and in Portuguese multiple times, and ate our yummy cake. (Yes, WE opened gifts. I got a couple of belated birthday presents from Jeff's aunt and uncle and his grandmother that had been sent with Maxie and Sharon. It's my longest birthday season ever)! We laughed and played and had a ball!

(If you'd like to see more pictures from the day, as well as pictures mentioned in yesterday's post, please check out my flickr photostream).