Friday, April 30, 2010


So while I'm in the posting mood, let me write about Miguel. Miguel is the handyman who works in our apartment complex. We never know when he is going to show up, nor how long he will be around. Miguel is a mumbler. And he has an unusual accent. And he talks as if we are native Portuguese speakers. This makes it VERY difficult to communicate with him. Because we are new in our apartment, the past six weeks have made us very dependent on Miguel for many things: installing the pipe in the master bath that the previous tenants had sawed off, repairing the broken shower head, installing the Brazilian clothes line, repairing the leaky toilet three times, checking the gas line to the stove, and so on. Miguel is very elusive, so any time we have seen him around, we run down to talk with him. Which usually goes something like this:

Me: "Hi, good afternoon. Anything you good?"

Miguel: "allsa. *7lakds bkalksdf"

Me, holding item in need of installing: "Today? You can fix it come to apartment?"

Miguel: "oiw0kb, toisoiugoiu ks211kg akdkls. utowoypppp sdi20lbzzz."

Me, confused: "Yes? No? Today?"

Miguel: "lsdkj9blksj, 2aoisuosowxxxksl booow."

Me: "Pardon me, what?"

Miguel: "I will do something, sometime."

Me: "Uh, ok. Uh, ok, thanks."

Then I go back home, and tell Matt that Miguel is going to do something, sometime. And sometimes he shows up! But most often he doesn't, and I have to have another conversation like above.

But this week we had a very big success! Miguel showed up after Matt spoke to him (actually within a few hours!) and our toilet is no longer leaking, and we have a proper set up for drying our clothes. No longer do I need to lean over the laundry sink to scrub socks!! And, some kind of communication happened between us and Miguel. I saw him today, trying to clean and fill the pool while it was pouring down rain, and I sent him warm thoughts.

More "what's that noise?"

Two nights ago, about five minutes after I'd fallen asleep, both Matt and I had a very rude awakening. Apparently there was a soccer game going on, and something happened, and it seemed as if the city erupted. We heard some kind of horn (trombone? very bad trumpet?) and our downstairs neighbor was having a shouting match with someone across the way


something unintelligible


something else unintelligible

Then came the fireworks. And then the requisite dogs barking.

We really need to pick up a local paper and figure out what everybody is shouting about.

A few hours later we were again awoken by a very strange and loud noise. Matt thinks it was someone's answering machine. I think it was the radio of a police car. But what we heard was some kind of recorded female voice VERY LOUD.

And then at 5:00 am, I awoke to our friendly neighborhood bird. It always seems like it is perched right at our windowsill, beckoning us. I hate it.

So much of what we sense (hearing included) is perceived thru our own cultural lens, and there are so many things that I hear on a daily basis (this is a loud city) are things that I just don't understand. I guess if there were noises in the US that I didn't recognize, I would probably just ignore them or realize that in that context it was all okay. But when there is so much that is new and different, and so much that just doesn't make sense, noises take on a whole new significance. Or you just try to make sense of what you hear based on what you know. I'll probably keep writing about this until I can wrap my head around it, because I find it so very fascinating. So bear with me...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Just to clarify: cantina

I've heard that some folks were confused by my choice of the word "cantina". Cantina is portuguese for "Canteen" which is like a little snack shop. No alcohol served. Not even to adults.

This also provides me the opportunity to explain meals and eating in Brazil. Most Brazilians eat a smaller breakfast, consisting of bread, perhaps cheese and meat, and coffee. Lunch is the major meal, and people really enjoy lunch here. Several courses, followed by dessert and coffee. Later in the afternoon, Brazilians will enjoy a snack of pão de quiejo (yummy cheese bread, gluten free! made with manioc flour) or some kind of fried pastry, coxinha, or one of many other yummy kind of snacks. Dinner is usually pretty simple (sandwiches, bread) and late. We eat with the kids at about 7:00 or 7:30 pm, but most folks eat at 10 pm, and from what I gather, go to bed.

I'd love to post more about my English classes, or our recent adventures in shopping, Miguel (the handyman that we occasionally see working around our apartment building) and the status of the elusive cell phone, but I've got to dishes. And get some things ready for tomorrow. So more later!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Happy Tiradentes Day!

Today is a holiday (see my blog friend Corin for a great blurb about Tiradentes), and we've been having lots of fun post "first-day-of-school". Here's what I could get from the kids--I was having problems with the camera, and by the time we actually arrived at the school, Bea was clinging to me for dear life, and Dora and Sebastian just took off with excitement.

The video was taken after walking uphill for about 20 minutes during the heat of the day. You'll notice that Bea is sitting on what looks like a seat, but it's really the sidewalk. Not the easiest place to walk around. I love how grumpy Dora is--the funny thing was that they started running shortly after this was taken because they were so enthusiastic about playing!

Bea was a little fearful the first 30 minutes or so. They first take the kids to a play room where the wait to go to their classroom, and I think she was confused and concerned because she had seen her classroom the day before, and was expecting to go there. Once she got to her classroom, she was better. Her teachers just loved all over her, and kept hugging her and kissing her (yes, kissing!) Some of the folks who work in Bea's class speak a little English, so they were helping her out. I left after about an hour, and they were surprised, because usually kids only stay half of the first day, and even then the parents stay the whole time. But Bea was happy as a clam, and having no problems. I checked in with Dora, and she was surrounded by a bunch of girls, showing her little toys and asking her questions. Dora was all smiles, and I asked if she was fine, and she said "Of course!" There is a little girl who recently moved from Maryland in her class, and she is bilingual (her mom is Brazilian, Dad is American) and she helped Dora out quite a bit. Sebastian's class was taking a test, but Sebastian was happy to just draw pictures of dinosaurs. He told me later that one of his teachers spoke a little English, so she helped him out. Matt went early to pick them up, but ended up just waiting because the kids were fine and didn't want to leave. When parents come to pick up at 6:00, the kids hang out at the playground, and the Cantina opens up (all schools here have Cantinas) and parents just hang around and talk. Matt and the kids didn't get home until about 7:30 pm, but they were all happy and had a great day!

So while the kids were at school I went again to the English school to hash out pay and details. They pay isn't spectacular, but I feel really good about the company, and they offered me four additional classes much closer to home to sweeten the deal. Thankfully the classes all fall during times when either the kids are in school, or Matt is off and can watch them. I'm supposed to start next Monday if we can work out my training schedule on Thursday and Friday.

Today we enjoyed the day by going to the Parque Municipal with our American friends, swimming, eating chocolate ice cream (have I mentioned that the ice cream here is amazingly rich and creamy?), and I'm going to make some pizza for dinner. Oh, and Sebastian met another buddy that is his age that lives in our apartment building! Very fun and relaxing day!

Monday, April 19, 2010

All of the sudden, we have things happening!

We've been doing a lot of waiting here over the past 7 weeks or so. A lot of talking to one person to try to find a solution to a given problem, and then finding out the that we're talking to the wrong person. Or the person doesn't understand anything we're saying. Or there are five more steps than we realized. And so on, and so on. However today was different! Oh you crazy April 19th, you!

I had an interview last Thursday at an English school, and was told that I would receive a phone call back that day. I didn't get a call back, so I thought, "it wasn't meant to be." Today I got an email that I was offered the position. I'm still not 100% committed, because they haven't told me what the salary is, but they are trying to woo me by offering more classes, and a bus pass. So I'm going tomorrow to meet in person and hash out the details.

"But who is watching the kids?" you ask. Well, the kids are enrolled in school.

Let me repeat: the kids are enrolled in school, and going to school tomorrow!

I visited a local private school this morning, to see if I could negotiate tuition with them, and after about 10 minutes of going back and forth, the director said she wanted to go check a few things. We went to the financial department, and found out that there are no openings in Sebastian's grade. Well! Too bad they didn't tell us that weeks ago. So, by default a decision is made: the kids will be going to Escola da Serra. I went to visit today, and give Dora and Sebastian a tour (only Bea had visited before today). The director there gave me a hard time because I didn't come back after my first visit, but he's very welcoming and accommodating. The kids really liked it, and I was ready to have them start on Thursday since Wednesday is a holiday, but the director insisted that the come tomorrow. So, tomorrow at about 12:30, I will hike up the Rua do Ouro with three kids to their first day of school in Brazil. They seem to not be as nervous as I thought they'd be, especially considering that their Portuguese is still VERY limited. But they are kids, and they are smart, and they will get it. And they will be speaking Portuguese in no time at all.

Ate mais!

Friday, April 16, 2010

A glorious afternoon

After much debate, and a cancellation, we hired a baby-sitter to come over for four hours today. The kids first reactions was, "but she won't speak English!" We prepped them with some helpful phrases, but the moment Terezinha walked in the door it was love at first sight. She kept oogling over the kids, and hugging them and touching them and loving all over them. Beatrice immediately fell for her, and Sebastian in his "I'm too cool to like you" mood said that he kind of liked her. And Dora got to practice her Portuguese. And me? Well, I had sore feet when I came home because I booked it all over the neighborhood and got A LOT done! Here's my list (it makes me feel good to list it):

1. Found again that Google Maps has false information, and there is not an English school five minutes from our house.
2. Found an English school about 20 minutes uphill from our house that was not open.
3. Found a $350 R couch at a store close by that might be worth buying.
4. Found another English school, and got phone number to call.
5. Went to the grocery store. By myself. That alone would make this afternoon all worth it.
6. Went to the fruit/vegetable store.
7. Went to another English School and got the email address of the person to send my resume.
8. Went to the private school by our house to see if I could talk to the Director about getting a discount if we teach some extra classes there. Three kids at a private school is a tad bit pricey! I didn't get to talk to the Director, but scheduled an appointment for Monday.
9. Went to another private school to get information on books, uniforms (we have to buy those, including uniforms and books for Beatrice!). Also got info on what they need to enroll the kids.
10. Went to the papeleria that sells items for said school. Met someone who is interested in private English lessons. Exchanged contact information.
11. Purchased two DVDS, and talked the guy down $1R

And all this in four hours! Phew! But I came home and the kids were happy, the dishes were done, the floor were clean, and the kitchen was spotless. A very good day. Now I'm off to make Waffles that we can enjoy with our syrup for Saturday breakfast. Boa noite!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Birthday hangover

Bea's third birthday was yesterday. We kept it pretty low key, but it seems that everybody is feeling grumpy today after a day of fun. Sebastian has been weepy all morning, and can't explain why. Dora is enjoying picking on Sebastian far too much. Bea has been in and out of time outs for various reasons, and I have a head ache from trying to figure out how to make this Skype local phone number work. And someone upstairs is draining something out the window, and water is dripping into our laundry area. Ack! Just an off day. But on a good note, Matt has two days off, we do have a local phone number (hooray!), and we might just be getting a babysitter to come for a few hours on Friday.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

An example of just how complicated things are

I would like to get a job teaching English, and I've met several people who have told me that there are lots of opportunities, and I've even met some folks who are hiring. Great! However there are several things that are preventing me from working on this. Here is the circle I'm stuck in:

1. I met someone who knows someone who has an English school. I email them, and they are hiring! They want to talk with me on the phone. We don't have a phone.

2. So let's get a phone. The orchestra has a connection (see here for more info on connections) so that we can get free phones and a very good monthly rate. But who knows when this connection will kick into place and our phones will materialize. So we go to plan B.

3. Plan B is to get a local number on Skype. Sounds easy enough. We get online, are about to sign up when we the website asks for our billing address. Hmmm. I think the billing address for our bank account is the orchestra office (not sure why that happened). That needs to get changed, which involves Matt staying late after rehearsal and communicating in Portuguese, and a possible trip to the bank, which is at least a two hour commitment, and even then most often Matt doesn't get what he wants. And then we realize that the debit card/credit card isn't activated yet. We need a phone to activate the card, which is the very thing we are trying to do!! We could just use our US credit card, but we have to pay a fee for each international transaction, and I'm guessing that a Brazilian Skype number falls into that category.

So now you see why it becomes so complicated. I probably will just break down and use the US card today because I really need to be able to reach people (and be reached). But then you never know--the cell phones might just appear today!

Monday, April 12, 2010


Matt's cookies turned out great! Different, but very very good.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sunday afternoon and Matt is making cookies

Hello! We're having a relaxing Sunday afternoon here. Matt has finally acquired all the ingredients for Chocolate Chip cookies, and I'm REALLY hoping they turn out okay. For those of you who know Matt, he has this cookie making down to a science, and the result is AMAZING. He used the Cuisinart to "sift" the flour, and to cream the butter and sugars, and we're attempting again to determine the temperature of the oven using the "paper" test. We also haven't found your typical brown sugar from the States--they have something here that is more molasses-y and a bit finer. Matt also had to use some higher math to figure out how much butter to use--they sell butter here by the 200 grams, but he thinks he got the right ratio. We'll let you know.

We've had a pretty good few days. We've visited another school, and so we're down to deciding between three. Matt was going to have a friend of a friend go with him to the public school to talk about getting on the wait list, but someone at the Orchestra said that Matt should just talk with the director because it's probably all political. Unless you know the right person, you won't get a good spot on the list (or even on the list), and you don't really have a chance to get in. Since we've just dropped into Brazil, not only do we not know that this is the modus operandi, but we have no connections. It really helped me to realize this, because so frequently we find ourselves wondering why it is taking s o l o n g to get seemingly simple things accomplished. So hopefully the director can help us out through his connections, and we can have some further movement in this area.

I also had the chance to go to Mangabeiras Park with the kids yesterday. It was a beautiful day, and we saw these crazy blue butterflies and had a picnic lunch. At 12:30, we were done, and went to the bus stop to take us back to the park entrance. We waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. After 45 minutes, several scraped knees, and lots of whining, I was done. I had a little family meeting and told the kids that we had to walk. Sebastian has a bit of a cold, and was feeling pretty miserable, but I promised them candy and chocolate, and off we went. After 10 minutes of walking, we saw the bus. However, it was going into the park, so we would have had to ride it for at least another 30 minutes before circling back to our entrance. I decided to just go for it. We had to stop for candy, and I carried Beatrice most of the way home, so we didn't get back until a full 2 hours after we started to leave. This is just kind of how things go here--you do the best you can to plan, and sometimes things work out perfectly, and sometimes you have to walk. For an hour and a half. With three kids. But at least it was all downhill!!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Avocado Milkshake

OH MY GOSH! This is so yummy! Shout out to Corin for putting this on the Minas International website. Remember that picture of the avocado? Well, it was super sweet, and just beckoning to be turned into a milk shake. Dora and Bea didn't like it, but Sebastian devoured it and then used a spoon to clean his cup. I made a huge mess in the kitchen (maybe sometime I'll post pictures of the messes I make...), but it was mainly due to a piece of junk Ikea can opener. Sweetened condensed milk (thinking of you Grandpa Beek!) makes it oh-so-yummy. Enjoy!

Open windows

We live with our windows open pretty much all the time. It is very uncommon in Brazil to have air-conditioning and/or heat. The good news is that we really don't need those items: the temperature is pretty livable all the time. The first week I was here, I was really worried because it was hot. Very hot. But since then it's ranged between 70 to 85 degrees F (21 to 29 C). There are many perks to the this arrangement: fresh air, lower utility costs, delicious aromas from neighbor's cooking, nice breezes blowing through the apartment. On the downside, there are bugs (but not near as many as I would have thought) and dust, because screens simply do not exist. I frequently wonder if other people in our apartment building shake their rugs out their windows because I keep finding strange things on the floor (a cigarette butt?!). But the open windows are a nice adjustment--as I write this there is a small spider running across my keyboard!!

Beatrice is chasing George around--poor kitty! And now she's hanging on my leg crying, "I'm hungry!" but she's already eaten three pieces of toast, yogurt, and watermelon. I think she's just bored. So off I go!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Trying to make sense

Matt got paid today, and we have a bank account. This is big news! I really wish I could explain how significant this is, considering all that we've been through. Things that seem simple and uncomplicated in the states become quite complicated in a different culture. We've come with our assumptions and expectations about how things should happen. If I request a cell phone, we should get it asap. Why wouldn't they want our business? Isn't it the job of the cell phone company to provide the best customer service so that we will be pleased and stay with them? These are all assumptions. There seems to be an endless amount of reasons why things don't happen according to our expectations: someone isn't answering the phone, it's raining, we don't have the right paperwork, the right person is not available, come back after lunch...and so on, and so on. I recently read a story about a woman who moved to Mexico who received a midnight phone call on her cell phone. She listened to the message at least seven times, trying to decipher what the caller said. All she could understand was "withdraw" and "package" and a long account number. Her first conclusion was that someone had stolen her car, but when she raced outside, it was still there. Then she assumed that someone had kidnapped her children, but they were safe and sound in bed. She lost lots of sleep trying to determine what this message was all about, but couldn't do anything about it until morning. The water delivery truck came early, and she desperately asked the delivery man if he could listen to the message and explain it to her. He told her that DHS had a package at her and she needed to come "withdraw" it. I laughed pretty hard at this, because it seems so familiar to me. So frequently we come to a totally different conclusion, because we have no clues for how to interpret and understand situations. It's as if we've been dropped into this alternate universe, and given no road map about how to get where we want. So we operate as we would according to our expectations and assumptions, and find that it gets us no where. Except for learning that things are very different here. We are strangers. And we are learning. The learning curve is high, and I have to keep telling myself daily that this experience is good for us, and we intentionally put ourselves here.

And I have to celebrate the victories. We had Eggplant Supper Soup for lunch, and it was good. The laundry got done today! Dora got to play with her new friend Victoria. And we have a bank account and Matt got paid. These are all achievements that need recognition. An ice cream bar would be a great way to recognize these accomplishments.

Even if it costs $2.27 US :-)

Espanha Manga and mammoth avocado

We tried the Espanha this morning, and I can't say that I like it all that much. Dora and Bea enjoyed it, but it was milder and the texture was a bit too soft for me. I should have taken a picture ahead of time, but it was 7 am and the kids were ravenous. I forgot to mention that we cut open the passion fruit too early, so it was waaay too tart. But I used it on the tilapia (instead of lemon juice) and it tasted pretty good.

Oh, and here's a picture of the avocado we're going to eat for lunch: it's the size of a small football!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

How we got here

A while back I got an email from a friend who was very surprised to hear that we were moving to Brazil, and wanted to know what lead us to move here. So Scottie-Pooh, this is for you.

1. It is a cold, winter night in December of 1990, Cashmere, Washington. The Ryan family kids were out sledding down our driveway at good 'ol Red Apple Road. After about 50 trips down the slick driveway, I let the sled keep going, and ended up a way down the dirt road by our neighbor's apple orchard. I left the sled, and walked, admiring the starry sky and entertaining romantic notions of what life should be (ah, to be a 16 year old again). Suddenly it occurred to me that I wanted to travel, and it was my hope to one day live in a foreign country. I walked back in the snow toward our house, and vowed to make it happen.

2. I decided to study Spanish in college, to help me get closer to this goal. Unfortunately, I didn't study abroad, but I did get to spend a summer working at an orphanage in Mexico, and having a Spanish speaking roommate helped me immensely. In college I was very involved with a campus ministry that helped me think about the world, culture, language and race relations in a unique way. I made it a point to build relationships with people who were different from me, and was hungry to learn about how these friends operated in their cultures and what it meant for them to live in the U.S. I have friends from Pakistan, Japan, India, Vietnam, and other places because of this curiosity.

3. Matt and I got married in Washington State, lived in Eugene, OR, and we wanted to live in a more diverse community. When the opportunity arose to move to Arizona, we decided to go for it. We worked at ASU. We had three kids. Matt got his doctorate. I stayed at home with the kids, went back to work, tried my hand at several things, but still dreamed about moving overseas.

4. About a year ago, Matt saw the posting for his current position online, and mentioned it to me. I thought it would be cool if he could audition, but it wasn't really feasible for him to fly with his cello to Brazil for an audition. Then in the fall of 2010, as Matt is quickly approaching graduation, he saw that the Orquestra was holding auditions in New York. We had two free tickets from frequent flier miles. And amazing friends in New Jersey who offered to host him. Matt went for the audition, and they told him, "we'll email you." He thought, "yeah, right!" Then a few days after returning to Arizona, he got an email, and was offered a job. Matt was pretty much sold then and there, but I was hesitant. What about the kids? What would I do? Could we afford to move? What about the house in Arizona? Finally, my dear friend Abby asked me, "would you regret it if you didn't move?" And then and there I knew: yes. I would regret it. This is what I've been waiting for.

5. Most days I feel pretty crazy for having made this move. I mean really, who does this kind of thing? I do. We do. It comes at a cost--missing family TERRIBLY, not knowing how to communicate, missing all our networks of friends and dear ones. But I keep telling myself it is worth it. It is worth it to eat mangoes. It is worth it to play with the kids in the swimming pool and laugh with them as George the kitten chases his tail. It is worth it to hear for the 1000th time how "linda" my daughters are, and how beautiful Sebastian's eyes are. It is worth it be stretched and pushed to learn new things, and realize who we really are as people. And it is worth it to be totally lost in a city of 4 million people, not speak a word of intelligible Portuguese, and have a bus full of people ready to drop their plans to help me get home. It is good.