Sunday, August 29, 2010

A little of this, a little of that

It's Sunday morning, we made buttermilk pancakes with homemade syrup, and I'm enjoying a second cup of coffee. The kids are drawing and playing in their pajamas. Matt has a wedding gig later today, but the rest of us are just planning on staying home today after a busy Saturday. On days like this, it doesn't really feel like we're living in Brazil. This is kind of the same routine we had in the states.

But then there are days like yesterday. The kid's school held a picnic (piquenique--love that word) at the Ecological Park. I've known about it for a while, and finally on Thursday talked to Matt about logistics. How are we going to get there? I realized that it was going to be too crazy to take two buses across town with food and 3 kids, so plans had to be made. Dora spent the night with a friend, and then I asked one of Sebastian's friends parents if they could give us a ride. They were very gracious, and even offered to take two cars to make it more comfortable. I had talked to another parent who said that we were supposed to bring either something sweet or something salty. This information was helpful, but how was it that I didn't get it? I've been trying to get on the email list at school for a while, but with no luck. Apparently information is not just sent home in the agenda (I should do a whole separate post on the "agenda") but also comes via email, but most importantly word of mouth. I often wonder just how much information I miss because I have such a hard time communicating with other parents. But that will come with time...but anyway, I assume that this is going to be a potluck kind of picnic, so I brought a HUGE dish of peanut butter brownies and some fruit, and to play it safe some sandwiches and other snacks for the kids. So I was prepared.

But when we arrived, I found out that it really wasn't a potluck. It was more like a put out your blanket and see who sits next to you and then just put all the food in the middle of the blanket. We ate coxinha (yummy little chicken snacks), kibe (a Middle eastern kind of snack), pão de queijo (the infamous minero cheese bread, made with manioc flour), hot dogs (Brazilian style, with corn, little slivers of potato chips, and a sauce), and cake and cookies. The kids pretty much just ran around, Sebastian playing soccer with his new soccer ball, Dora climbing trees, and Bea insisting that I play with her. There was an Urucum (Annatto) tree close to where we were sitting, and so the kids started picking the pods, opening them up to take the seeds out, and then they mixed it with water to make a paint. Dora painted her arm, and many of the girls painted their cheeks bright red--it was cute! Someone brought a guitar, so there was a circle of people singing and some dancing along to the music. At one point, the Capoeira teacher had some kids form a capeiora circle, and the kids sang and "danced". Unfortunately my kids didn't want to participate. Enjoy Bea's whining (be thankful you only have to deal with 20 seconds of it, because I had the privilege of enduring 7 hours); you can also see Dora's friend Mariana in the white tank top--she's pretty good!

Someone brought a keg, and I saw a few folks drinking Skol. I have no problem with people enjoying beer, and I on occasion enjoy caparinhas and Bohemia and gin and tonics and wine, but I don't know if I'll ever get used to seeing people walking down the street drinking beer from a can, drinking in the car (I've even seen drivers holding beers!!!) or bringing a keg to a school picnic. Mostly we just hung out, ate way to much, talked and then talked some more. I met some new folks, and thankfully am realizing that I'm understanding more Portuguese (the speaking still needs work). I also got to hear Dora speaking Portuguese with her friends--she's coming along quite well! Portuguese, kegs, guitars, capoeira, different food, and being content to spend more than 6 hours just hanging out--these are not things that you'd find at an American Picnic. And these are things that make me happy we are here.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Today the online thermometer says that it's either 46 F or 42 F outside. Now most of you might think, "that's not so cold..." but you have to keep in mind that we have no heat, no insulation, and single pane windows (and some of them don't close entirely) it can get a little chilly. But thankfully we've got coffee, sweatshirts, and there's always that nice hike to school that warms us up.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Visiting Ouro Preto with Children

We rather spontaneously decided to go to Ouro Preto last Saturday. It was only our second trip outside of Belo Horizonte since we've been here. There are several buses that go from BH to Ouro Preto (here's one), and we've been told that their pretty nice, with air conditioning, reclining seats and bathrooms. However, traveling with a family of 5 can pretty quickly make a bus trip kind of pricey, and we just didn't feel up to renting a car. Thankfully, a friend from the Orquestra recommended their driver, so for $220 R round trip (about $125 US) we had someone come to our front door, deal with the headache of driving around this city, and even help us find our way around Ouro Preto. It felt sooo luxurious! Unfortunately thought, he liked to drive fast, and there are lots of curves on the way there. Sebastian kept complaining about being hungry, and I was doing my best to distract him and tell him that we would eat when we got there (I didn't want to get crumbs all over the car, especially since Sebastian is a CRUMB MACHINE!!) Suddenly, Sebastian said he didn't feel good and the vomit started flying; so much for keeping the car clean. Of course the water and wipes were in the trunk, so I did my best to mop up the barf using sweatshirts. The driver didn't even bat an eye, and said he would stop at a gas station. Twenty minutes later, we finally pulled into a gas station.

We got relatively cleaned up, filled up some tummies with snacks and hit the road again. It really is a beautiful drive, despite things being a little bit brown (it's the dry season). When we finally pulled into the main square in Ouro Preto, it was like stepping back in time, complete with cobblestone streets. Upon which Beatrice immediately tossed her cookies. I'm sure the hundreds of tourists in the Praca enjoyed that sight.

We spent an hour just poking around, and Matt got to play with his camera.

My suggestion with traveling with kids is to have low expectations, bring lots of snacks, and go with the flow. We decided to just spend about 6 hours there. We let the kids play around the churches a lot, to climb into the watchtowers and run around the fountains. We visited the Mineralogy Museum, which was great for kids because they have hundreds and hundreds of gems and stones on display, and a nice Physics exhibit that's hands on. We took a risk at the end and walked down a street that we weren't sure where it would lead. Matt got some great pictures there, and we did have to hike back up to the Praca, but we bribed the kids with the promise of a snack. Overall, they handled it well, and they took a nice nap on the way home. Then I came home and was inspired to research more about the history, and make plans for future trips.

Monday, August 16, 2010

On our walk to school today

Here's what we saw on our walk to school today:

Sorry, not the greatest picture (NO comparison to Matt's pictures, which I will try to post soon). But I tried to tell the guy who was feeding this little monkey bread that we never saw monkey's on our way to school in Arizona. The kids didn't get as excited as I thought they would, but then they told me that they saw monkeys at the playground at school!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Finding meds in Brazil....

Rachel's Rantings in Rio: How Rio de Janeiro medicates me: "I hate coming to a new country and not being able to find those much needed medications!

Have to post this. Wish I had found it about a month ago!

Monday, August 9, 2010

How to Use a Cash Machine In Brazil

I find going to the ATM here amusing. First off, I didn't really get cash from ATMs in the states, so I'm at a bit of a deficit. We used our credit cards for everything (Matt is even guilty of using it for purchases under $1), so that we could get points and then get things like gift cards at Old Navy, free plane tickets for Matt to take the Filarmônica audition in New York (thanks American Express), and my personal favorite, about $500 in rebate checks a year. We were good at working the credit card perks. But here, not as many places take credit cards, so we need to take out cash every so often. We also live no where near our agency, or the actual bank location where we signed up for our account. The orquestra graciously helped us get our account, but at a location that is convenient for them (makes sense). However in Brasil, most of your transactions of any significance (adding a spouse to your account, changing your address, getting a credit card, and making deposits at the counter) have to occur at your agency. Thankfully, we learned that you can make deposits (both of cash and checks) at an ATM, and you can make payments for bills at ATMs. And there is a branch about a 10 minute walk from our house. For the first two months, only Matt had a debit card and then eventually a credit card, so I had to rely on him to take care of our banking. When I finally got my debit and credit card, I got so excited that I decided to try it out to make sure it worked (a smart idea for anything here), and withdrew $10 R. So I approach the screen, and it goes something like this:

put in your atm card and quickly take it out.
then put your card back in.
then enter your password.
then request to take out money.
then the machine spits out your card, but tells you to put it back in.
then enter your password again.
and then you get your money.

Thankfully Matt warned me about this putting in and taking out game, or else I would have been utterly lost!

But today, the ATM machine won.

I have a few students that like to pay with checks. How to write a check in Brasil is a whole other post, and I honestly haven´t got there yet, because I couldn´t tell you what you have to do (make a grid in the corner? and something about if you deposit it in your account or if you use it to get cash...?). I have successfully deposited checks before, but it´s only been one at a time. All you do is the above process (taking and putting debit card) and put the check in an envelope and voila! You don´t even have to sign it, or write your account number on it or anything. Well, today I had two checks, and I determined using my own logic that they should be deposited separately. After depositing one check, the bank decided it didn´t want my money. It kept asking for my account number, which I´m not a number memorizer, and how was I supposed to know it was on the back of the debit card? Hello, I used to work in the fraud department at Chase! Why would you think it would be a good idea to put your account number on the card you use to withdraw your money?! Then it was asking me for the month of my birthday, and my cat's weight and the square root of 59847, and I decided to give up. That's when the machine started beeping REALLY loud, and a red screen of death appeared which said, "this machine is being serviced." I then heard someone banging on the machine from behind the wall! Funny how Mr. ATM Machine Servicer didn't notice that I was using the machine. So, unfortunately I have to return to the ATM tomorrow, but thankfully it will be with yet another check from yet another student. I'm hoping that I will win this game tomorrow...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Happy Brasilian Father~s Day

Oops, I~ve got the Portuguese keyboard on. Today is Father~s Day here. I made bacon, eggs, pineapple, and bought fresh pão de sal last night. Yum. I just finished up a big batch of brigadeiros (say that fast three times). We~re going to head to a friends house in Pampulha for a churrasco, and I made my first big meat purchase yesterday: a big piece of picanha. Looking forward to a fun day! And I will post pictures taken with Matt~s father~s day gift

Friday, August 6, 2010

falling apart and carlessness

Hehehe, did that blog title get your attention? We really, REALLY need to take a shopping trip. Sebastian's $5 Ross Dress for Less backpack that we purchased over a year ago has an enormous hole in it. Both Dora and Bea could use some new shoes. And unfortunately the shoes that we bought Sebastian last month are already coming apart. Now, I would expect that a pair of Sketchers would probably last 6 months on a 6 year old boy that loves to play soccer. Um, let me correct that: obsessively loves soccer so much that I question his nationality (see here). In fact, last week we were walking somewhere, and he was wearing his old Sketchers, and suddenly said, "Hey Mom! Look, I can see my sock!" And low and behold, he had a hole in his shoe that his black socks were poking out of (yes, my son only wears black socks). Matt bought Sebastian a moderately priced ($50 R, or about $29) Brazilian brand of shoes that came relatively highly recommended, but within two weeks, they were already cracking and showing serious signs of wear. I took them back, thinking at least I could trade them for something else, but even with 15 minutes of going back and forth and trying to plead with the store owner, and even offering to buy a whole other pair of shoes if he let me trade, he said he was so sorry, it was just the fault of my son. Shucks. But I'm pretty peeved that these shoes are already junk. I wouldn't be so frustrated, except that shoes are so dang expensive, and I'm the super-frugal bargain hunting queen. I love a good deal, I have no bones about shopping second hand for good things, and I was an obsessive coupon clipper back in the states. So the thought of shelling out $100 R for another pair of shoes that may or may not last does not make me happy. Plus backpacks, for some unknown reason are pricey too. I think $5 to $10 US is a smoking good deal, but the best I've been able to see here is $20 R for knock offs of questionable quality.

Thank you for letting me vent.

And regarding living without a car. We decided when we moved here that we were going to try to live without a car. Belo Horizonte is a fairly large city, with a good public transportation system (despite what many people will say). We intentionally looked for a neighborhood in which to live that was central, close to Matt's work, and then found a school that is within walking distance. I'm proud of the decision that we've made. And it is very difficult. I keep telling myself that there are so many benefits. I've lost weight! We have a fairly low carbon footprint. We are getting to know the people in our neighborhood as we walk around (the barber, the lady who sells Havianas, the shoe store lady, and many, many others). It provides me with the opportunity to listen to my Portuguese podcasts. I don't have to stress out about driving with all these crazy Belo Horizonte drivers. I get to rub shoulders with people from all walks of life on the bus. My kids are learning endurance, perseverance, and how not to whine (maybe??!) as we hike to school everyday. But...have you every tried to haul food home from the grocery store for a family of 5? Have you ever played the public transportation gambling game? Will the bus come? Should I wait for the right bus number, not knowing when it will come, or take a risk with this bus and walk the last 20 minutes home? How late do the buses run? An exciting and stressful game it is!! And have you ever contemplated taking 3 children shoe and backpack shopping while using public transportation and walking? If you feel your life is too boring, I highly suggest moving to another country with children, no car, and very minimal language skills. Never a dull moment!!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Bored cat and other randomness

Random post. The cat is bored, and is playing with Sebastian's eraser.

Yesterday I saw two interesting things: a man balancing a big box on his head. I haven't seen it too often, but on occasion I see people balancing boxes, baskets, or bags on their heads. I wonder how you learn that skill. The other thing was the doggie wheelchair. Someone in our neighborhood has a dog that does not have use of it's back legs. They purchased a contraption that allows it to go out for walks. Something like this. Very interesting.

On another note, I'm trying to figure out how grades work here in Brazil. Sebastian came home before vacation with a packet of his work and an evaluation from his teacher saying how wonderful he is (essentially). There's a website maintained by the school with some of the information, and a list of criteria and some drop down menus with the letter A. So, am I supposed to choose something? Is Sebastian supposed to evaluate himself? There's an online tutorial in Portuguese, but it's way beyond my ability. And of course Dora didn't bring anything home, and doesn't know anything about any kind of packet. I'm writing a note to Dora's teacher, and I sent an email to a friend asking about how grades work here.

I bought cornflakes at the store yesterday because I've been craving cereal. Matt and I were fantasizing about the aisles and aisles of cereal that we took for granted when we lived in the states. Golden Grahams. Honey Bunches of Oats. Grape Nuts. Brazilians don't really eat cereal (except kids eating it for least from what I can tell). The cereals they do have are Sucrilhos (sugar flakes), Snow Flakes (more sugary flakes), and variations on a theme of little puff balls of chocolate. We are not really sugar cereal kind of people, plus a small box costs about R$4.50, which is a more than this frugal mama ever likes to pay for packaged convenience. Don't get me wrong, I have found a "deal" on occasion and purchased some sugar bombs. But right now, I would gladly pay $4.50 US for a nice box of Honey Nut Cheerios. Of course, the cheap box of cornflakes that I bought already tastes stale. Maybe I'll mix it with a box of sugar coated flaky crisps....