Thursday, June 30, 2011

Found a new apartment

Hi there. Well, I have to say I didn't think it would happen, but we've pretty much found another apartment here to rent. I say pretty much because we are waiting for the rental company to change the contract so we are not locked into a 30 month lease, but rather a year to year lease. It's been quite a process, involving asking friends of ours to provide documentation of their income, their tax returns, ownership of properties, paychecks, bank statements, and identification. And then asking them to provide more documentation. And then even more. And it's involved my dear wonderful hubby driving back and forth between the rental office, the application office (because you cant' submit an application to the rental agency--they only do the renting, NOT the applications), and getting all the correction documents and signatures. Whew.

Thankfully the place is only about 1/2 a mile from where we currently live, but we still have a big list of things to do within the next month:

-find someone to help us clean the old apartment
-find someone to help clean the new apartment
-find someone to paint the new apartment (they say it's been painted, but that's not really true)
-find someone to help us remove light fixtures/ceiling fans/curtain rods/shower heads from our current apartment and install them in the new apartment
-find a moving company
-figure out how to change our address
-update our address with various companies
-cancel our phone/internet service at our current address and start it at the new address
-buy an oven (the new place doesn't have an oven)
-buy some extra furniture to make things work in the new apartment (shelves, storage, etc)
-buy a armoire for the bedroom that doesn't have one

This is just my "off the top of my head list." So, I probably won't be posting much in the month of July. BUT, not only will we be paying 1/4 less a month in rent (!), but we will have 600 sq feet of outdoor area that is all our own. I'm dreaming of container gardening, a little bbq for churrasco, and space for the kids to run around and do arts and crafts. And we won't be right next to two construction sights, a crazy loud public school, and a very busy street. Maybe, just maybe it will be a little quieter and we can make it our own space.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dora's 10th Birthday

How did this happen? How did I get a kid that is a DECADE old?? Pretty amazing how those 10 years just flew by.

Dora really only wanted to have a sleep over with a few friends, but I thought it would only be fair to do something at school too. So we invited over 4 of her closest friends to spend the night, and had a little party at school. It's much different having a school party for 10 year olds than for 4 year olds. First of all, they eat A LOT MORE. And secondly, they are not as easy to control. But I'm jumping ahead. We decided to order salgados (salty snacks that are oh-so-popular here) from a local bakery and to have fruit and juice, and I would make my infamous cupcakes. Matt was so helpful, and went to the padaria to order pão de quiejo and coxinhas (Dora's favorites).

Would they be ready by 1:00 pm on the party day? "Claro! Com certeza!" And what happens? We show up, and they are not ready. Ok, no problem. I planned for this, we'll come back on our way to the party. "Of course they will be ready then!" So we come back, and are they ready? No. At this point, Matt is getting really frustrated, and calling me every 30 seconds on the cell phone with an update. I can hear him saying, "no, it's not tudo bem!!!" He asked to speak with the manager. The manager comes out, offers no apology. Matt asks what the manager can do to make things better. The manager says he can't do anything. Matt says it's too bad, because he's not coming back. The manager says, "that's okay."

Really?!? You don't want our business?

Matt actually asked him that, and he says it didn't matter to him. AAHHHHHHH!!

At this point, not only are we without salgados, but we are late to our party. I just tell Matt to grab something so we can make a bee-line to school. Thankfully, we weren't too incredibly late, and nobody seemed to mind that we only had a few coxinhas and some biscoitos (I guess it was less food to throw for the food fight--yikes!) Dora was happy, and I think she felt loved.

Then over the weekend, the friends came over. We made banana splits,

watched a movie and the girls stayed up late painting their fingernails and giggling. I made waffles the next morning with whipped cream and we all played outside until the friends got picked up. Happy 10th Birthday Dora!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Cheese Popsicles!

We're just coming off a 4 day weekend here (Corpus Christi). We took a trip to the zoo (I'll have to do another post for that), went to a friend's house for dinner, watched movies, and went to the park. It's a great little park, not too far from our house, that has been remodeled in the past year or so. There are swings, teeter totters, monkey bars, and lots of kids. And with lots of kids and their parents, come the vendors. On Saturday, the picole or Popsicle vendors were out in full force, pushing around their little carts and shouting, "PICOLE!"

I was feeling generous, and the popsicles were only R$1 (USD $.63). AND he had some of the fun flavors: sweetened condensed milk, avocado, corn, and cheese. The girls got the leite condensado (which essentially just tastes like sugar), Sebastian got corn

and I got the cheese.

Nice picture of Beatrice whining the background, eh? I definitely liked the corn better than the cheese. With the cheese you end up with a mouthful of grated cheese at the end, but it is pretty sweet. It's so Mineiro (meaning of the state of Minas Gerais, where we live). Mineiros do love them some cheese.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Sebastian's 7th Birthday (or how to have a Star Wars party)

So, Beatrice's birthday happened, and then I had a month to prepare for Sebastian's birthday. His birthday just happened to fall on the same day as the all school picnic, so I decided to take advantage of it and just add onto the picnic fun. I made the invitations, this time on the computer:

We made a Death Star Piñata, made a game of "Pin the Light Saber on Yoda," and decided to make balloons into light sabers so we could have battles. I went to 1001 Festas to stock up on candy for the piñata and balloons. I started the piñata waaaay in advance to make sure it would turn out okay, but it still ended up being a little lumpy. I also made cupcakes, and topped them with these images that I'd downloaded and color copied.

Unfortunately, Matt was on tour before and during Sebastian's birthday, so I had to do it all myself. I stayed up WAAAYYY too late, several nights in a row, and as a result I got totally wiped out, and ever since I've been sick, with one cold or another. But, it was total crazy fun. The location was beautiful, it was a nice warm day (sunburn for mommy), and I think Sebastian felt celebrated and loved.

Beatrice and some colegas (classmates)

Sebastian, preparing to Pin the light saber on Yoda

Setting up the piñata

Beatrice on the sidelines

Mommy, getting burnt.

Beatrice "hitting" the piñata

Shower of candy!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Welcome, new tooth!

I have bad teeth. Not just "I need a filling this year," kind of bad teeth. But extraction, root canal, and implant bad teeth. This was compounded by the fact that I had spotty dental coverage in the states, and we decided to postpone some visits. And then I had three kids, and being pregnant is hard on your teeth. Add all that up together, and you get my mouth. I used to joke with my dentist in the states that she must like it when I would visit, because I needed so much work and made her so much money. She laughed and then caught herself, realizing that she shouldn't be laughing.

So when we moved to Brazil, looking for a dentist was important. We have Unimed insurance, and opted to buy the dental coverage. It covers annual cleanings, fillings, part of a root canal...basically the same kind of coverage you get with a dental plan in the states. It took a few tries, but I found a dentist that I really like. His name is Marcelo Saliba, and he's at Rua Ceará 1431/402. He will probably be there forever, because his Dad is a dentist there, and I think that his sister is a dentist, and I think the secretary is his sister too. Gotta love the family businesses. He speaks not a lick of English, so there have been some times that I didn't really understand what he said. But I trust him, and I think he's done good work. One thing I have learned here is that if you need x-rays, you have to go to a lab. Dentists here just don't have x-ray machines in their office. Just a FYI.

I also found an implant dentist/oral surgeon that is GREAT! He was highly recommended by Mr. Saliba, and right upstairs. His name is Geraldo Luiz Guimarães. He speaks excellent English, and did a great job.

So today, 1 1/2 years after losing my tooth due to a failed root canal (done in the states), and after 4 appointments just with the Mr. Saliba to get the tooth made and crown put in, I got my tooth. I love it. It is beautiful, and I am going to eat peanuts and learn how to chew on the right side of my mouth. And I feel like I paid a good price, considering what the cost of getting an implant would be in the states.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mistaken purchases

I'm sure that I bought the wrong things in the states, but it seems like we are constantly purchasing items that are just not what we wanted. I think that part of what burns me about these mistaken purchases is just how expensive groceries are here, and that I know that returning the item is just a hassle (Portuguese! Return policies! Another trip to the store!)

*Spicy Ketchup? I've accidentally purchased spicy ketchup TWO times. The kids do NOT like spicy ketchup. And in a state where people are notorious for not liking spicy food, I have to ask, "why?"

*Raisins WITH seeds. Huh? But I just did a google search, and apparently eating the seeds makes raisins a whole lot healthier. But I don't think I can convince the kids to crunch their raisins.

*Conditioner instead of shampoo. We've got an overabundance of conditioner because the bottles look exactly the same. Arg.

*Fabric Softener rather than detergent.

*The wrong kind of toilet paper. You get what you pay for here. It's just better to pay more. Go for the Personal VIP Folha Dupla
I just have to make sure I don't get the scented kind...

*Dedo da moca peppers. Sometimes it looks like a spicy pepper, but it's not.

*Margarine without salt.

On another grocery note, Beatrice is having some weird skin reactions to certain things. Tomatoes, oranges, pineapple and ketchup make her mouth get all red and irritated. Then one day, all she ate was chicken, beans and rice, and she still got splotchy. I was trying to figure out what was different, and I realized that I'd bought tempero (seasoning) so our empregada (help) wouldn't have to mince garlic by hand, and I had purchased some with MSG in it! The last time I went to the store, all the tempero and the caldo da galinha (chicken broths) had MSG in it. Anyone had any recommendations for a brand of broth that doesn't have MSG?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Beatrice's 4th Birthday party

We are not Brazilian. We didn't do the candy tables, the bouncy toys and the rented hall. But we did want to celebrate our wonderful kids, and do it our way. Beatrice loves butterflies, so we planned a "borboleta" butterfly for her.

I made invitations with cute little pastel butterflies on them, and sent them to school so her teacher could send them home in each child's agenda. This way the parents know they don't have to send a lanche (snack) to school with the kids, and they can bring a little present if they want. For some reason, I decided that we had to have her birthday on her actual birthday, even though it meant that I couldn't be there because I had to work. So essentially I planned and prepped everything, and Matt took it all to school, set it up and took the pictures. Beatrice's teacher asked us to bring healthy snacks, so we did. I cut up carrots, cucumbers and had cherry tomatoes. Then I made a nice fruit salad with strawberries, watermelon, grapes, mango and banana. I also cut up salami and cheese for crackers. And of course there were cupcakes, with butterflies I made from gumdrops. Very cute. I also made little gift bags with butterfly coloring pages, butterfly stickers, cheap plastic toys and a little candy. Simple, but I did all the work myself (so NOT Brazilian).

The helpers!

When Matt showed up with the snacks, the teachers were surprised. "Wow, this really is healthy!" I guess they say to the parents to bring healthy snacks, but the parents never really do. Of course, the kids did not even touch the veggies, and hardly ate any of the fruit. But they loved the cupcakes, they showered Bea with love, and the teachers did a great job of using the whole thing as a learning opportunity, teaching the kids to use their manners, to take turns, and to say "please" and "thank you." Happy Birthday Bea (two months late)!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

How things work-recommendations and references

I've been thinking about this post for a while. I may be speaking in generalizations, but I would say that Brazil has a very relational culture. People tend to be very social, like to talk, and share information through relationships and verbal communication. The best way to find out information is word of mouth. It's kind of like driving: the maps are outdated, there are no street signs, and google maps frequently is inaccurate. But you can always ask people for directions. And that's what Brazilians do. I can't tell you how many times I've been asked, "where's Rua Herval?" or "Where's the hospital?" It's all about getting information through verbal communication in a relationship, even if it's a 2 minute relationship you have with a stranger while talking on the sidewalk.

So, if you want to find a barber/pediatrician/vetrinarian/nanny, you gotta ask around. When we hired our first empregada, we knew that this was the case, but we kind of got ourselves into a bind. We were desperate, and we'd asked everybody we knew, and ended up asking the woman who cleans our apartment building. She is a wonderful woman, and I like her a lot. But she didn't really know of anyone, and suggested her neighbor who was unemployed. I interviewed the neighbor, and hired her on the spot because she was available and seemed fine with what I was asking of her. Later I learned that she didn't really understand anything I said. Essentially, I had hired someone with very little work experience, and I needed to do on-the-job training with her. Except I didn't know that. Until she got bleach on the curtains, wax on the sofa, ruined several towels and bathmats and started using our washing machine for her own laundry. She was a nice person, and it ended up that we wanted someone who could do more caring for the children than cooking/cleaning/ironing, and she wasn't able to do that.

But this time, I decided that I was ONLY going to hire someone that came recommended by a previous employer. I sent out emails, called practically everyone I knew, and even resorted to asking some parents from school that I didn't really know very well! A friend left suddenly, and her house cleaner had become available. It turned out that we were able to talk to the woman who had this empregada as a baba (nanny) when she was a child, and had worked for other foreigners before. We tested her out for a week or so, and like our new person very much. And Beatrice regularly asks, "Is Irene coming today?" which to me says that we've got a keeper. References made a HUGE difference!

Another way I learned this through an experience with a certain medical professional. I met a doctor through a connection, and he was a good person. He said that I should come see him. I thought, "sure, he's a nice enough person!" Unfortunately, he misdiagnosed a problem and I was TOTALLY grossed out by how dirty his office was. I ended up never following up, and it's been a bit awkward when I've run into him, but I'd rather have awkward that sub par care.

I think that recommendations and references are just as important in the US, but you can find them other ways. When I moved from Oregon to Arizona and was looking for a Pediatrician, I just went to an online forum, posted my question and got a recommendation that ended up being great. Here, it's through your circles and networks. This definitely benefits those who are in the "right" circles who have access to the good information (which is why parents want their kids to get into certain schools, so the children and the family can get the right kind of connections). And those of us who stumble through the language and are outsiders to the culture, or those who don't have the money are left to try to figure it out themselves. Thankfully, we've been pretty lucky so far. And I will admit that there have been some bad references (like where to buy good quality shoes for the son). But once I realized that it's so much better to go with someone or a service that is recommended rather than what seems convenient, life got a little bit smoother for us.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Manga Rosa

On Thursday, I found a new variety of Mango at the Sacalão (fruit/veggie market). It's called the Manga Rosa, and from my internet searches, I think it's only grown in Brasil. I asked the clerk at the store about it, and he told me it was good and that if I go out of town (to his sitio!) there are tons of kinds of mangoes, and he went on to list a whole bunch for me. Nice guy! Plus it always feels good to have some form of positive interaction in Portuguese.

Here's what it looks like:

I was hoping to get my own picture, but I didn't want to wake up the hubby (kids woke up early), and it was all cut and almost entirely devoured by the time he was up. It was probably one of the most beautiful mangoes I've ever seen--the color was a beautiful orangey-red-peach color, and the shape was perfect. It was smaller than the normal mangoes I get. I would describe the flavor as more citrus, with an orange flavor, and a little weaker mango taste. The hubby didn't like it, but I kinda liked it, and the kids just slurped it down.

On another note, I had one of those "I live a strange life" while checking out at the Sacalão: I bought one manga rosa, a package of figs, maracujá (the kids are sick, and I'm going to try to add it to juice), cilantro and green oranges. And it was all R$9! Things I would never have bought, had I not moved to Brasil!

Monday, June 6, 2011

A great day for free music in BH--Jun 12

Wow. Free weekend of concerts in BH! Palavra Cantada at Praca Da Liberdade (a great group that sings children's songs) and Milton Nascimento with Maria Gadu at Praca Estacão. Details here.


I wrote yesterday about poor Sebastian and his ant lollipop. We've gone through several cycles of ant problems here. Thankfully right now we are not in ant-crisis mode. But we live with ants. I think that part of it is that everything is so open here. There are no screens on the windows, no air conditioning, no heating, so we rely a lot on outside temperature and "natural" ventilation. So we get the pleasure of living with the little critters who were here waaayyy before us. I think that the other problem is that our neighbors have probably all had the exterminator come and visit. We opted to not pay nor expose our children to all sorts of toxic things. And as a result, we have ants. If we leave anything in the sink without rinsing, the ants find it. For some reason, they especially like to come out of the electrical outlet by the sink. Why is there an out let by the sink? There are some question here that we just don't ask.

If you leave any kind of candy "out," the ants will attack. This means if you leave a Bis bar on the fridge, the ants will get it. It's not shrink wrapped, sealed and in a plastic bag, so it's fair game to them. We have all our crackers, bread, cookies, pasta, sugar, oats in ziploc bags. My husband makes fun of me, but we live out of ziploc bags. We bought cereal and kept in the box for a few days, and the ants got it. I put the candy for Sebastian's birthday piñata in the refrigerator so the ants wouldn't get it. I even have ants that crawl on my laptop. Someone likes to snack in the bedroom/my workspace, and as a result, ants.

So, besides ziploc bags, what's a person to do? The hubby likes to wipe things down in bleach, but I'm notorious for making holes and spots in clothing, so this option isn't the best. My mom suggested vinegar, and I've found that it helps. Things that disrupt their ability to smell, and clean up their scent trails are good, and vinegar is a decent, non-toxic option. Our empregada swears by cloves, and I have to say that it helps! You put cloves around the areas that the ants frequent. They don't like the smell, so eventually the go away. Unfortunately they just go somewhere else, but they do avoid the areas with the cloves.

Anyone else have non-toxic suggestions for dealing with ants?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A typical Sunday

Is there such a thing as a typical day for our family of 5 in Brasil? No, not really. Here's what happened today.

We were out waaaay late last night for a Festa Junina party (so much fun! I love dancing with my kids). So Beatrice and Sebastian slept in until 9:30, which is unheard of. Of course, Matt had to wake up because he had a park concert today, and Dora always wakes up at 7 am. Matt left at about 8, and Dora I just hung out in our pajamas, read and I did a little editing work. The younger two kids woke up, I fed them, did dishes, and then did a load of laundry. We opted to buy a less expensive top loading washing machine when we moved here, and we just get really dirty (kids! Brasil!) so I end up doing a lot of spot treating and hand washing of stuff before I throw it into the machine. It takes extra time. Then I bathed Bea and Sebastian and tried to sneak in a little more editing. While I was at the computer, I kept hearing this loud banging noise, and I thought, "the neighbor's washing machine must be overloaded." After 5 minutes, I realized that it was outside, and I popped my head out the window, and saw that down Rua do Ouro there was a small marching band blocking traffic. ??!??? I called Dora and Bea (Sebastian was in the shower). No clue who they were, and why they were marching, but we heard them off and on marching through the streets in our neighborhood for the next 2 hours. I even think I heard, "It's a Grand Ol' Flag." Seriously.

Lunch: chicken nuggets and leftovers (it's the weekend, and Matt wasn't back yet. Keeping it simple). Put a movie on for the kids. Realized that the pirated version of Pica Pau (Woody Woodpecker) was actually something else (a Brazilian version of "Green Acres"???) so had to resort to the "Voyage of the Dawn Treader." Reminded myself yet AGAIN to never by movies from the guy selling them from the side of the road. He always promises me that they are in English, and about 50% of the time they are not, or they are obviously filmed in the theater with a cheap camera. Not worth it. While the kids were watching the movie, was able to sneak in a shower. Made Matt's lunch (I'm such a good wife) and left it in the oven for him. Then I spent at least 30 minutes mapping out the route to the birthday party that Dora was going to. It was on the other side of town, and my sense of direction is SOOOO bad that I really, really needed to know where I was going. Did more dishes, got myself ready and corralled the kids to the car. Managed to drive to said birthday party WITHOUT GETTING LOST and stop and pick up a birthday present (Pictureka Card game and nail polish for R$17 at the drug store. Ack!). Dropped Dora off at the birthday party, drooled over the hosts amazing vegetable garden and worm bin, and then bribed the younger two back the car with suckers. Sebastian's sucker had dead ants all over it, and he had a melt down in the car. Decided to stop at the park on the way home. Sebastian said he hates parks. Spent about 10 minutes playing with the kids before Beatrice peed her pants. No, actually peed in the middle of the playground. Dragged a crying Beatrice back to the car, and went home. Changed Beatrice, did some more editing work, and then took the kids outside to play. Ran around crazy with the kids for a while, then came back upstairs and did more editing work. Gave Matt bad directions to the birthday party (he went to pick up Dora) and he got lost. Realized I didn't give Dora any money to go the amusement park for the birthday party (!). Felt terribly guilty and embarrassed. Made grilled cheese sandwiches for Bea and Sebastian. Did more dishes. Sorted laundry for ironing. Made a budget for school for next year. Put Bea to bed. Helping Sebastian count down the minutes til his bedtime.

And here I am. I often wonder if our life would this interesting/crazy in the states. Which makes things more interesting/crazy: having 3 kids, or living abroad? Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Things to do in Belo Horizonte (with visitors)

My sister is coming to visit in July--hoooray! I'm making plans for while she is here. Here is my list of things that we must do while she is here (besides play with the kids, and enjoy adult beverages):

1. Walk/hike Mangabeiras. We live about 10 minutes from this park. Every time I go there I think, "I should come here more often." And I keep talking to Brazilians that have NEVER visited the park. Such a shame--it is a treasure!

2. Visit a historic city (Ouro Preto/Tiradentes/Diamantina). We are probably going to go to Tiradentes because we haven't been there, and it's not as far as Diamantina.

3. Mercado Central. Love love love the Mercado. You can find all sorts of random things there, and it is so colorful, noisy and Brazilian.

4. Sunday Hippie Fair. All sorts of kitchy things for sale. Every Sunday. Plus you get to people watch, see some Capoeira, street performers, and eat food on a stick. Fun times.

5. Inohtim. Another hidden secret about Minas Gerais. One of the best places in the world to see large art exhibitions. A beautiful location, with beautiful art. I've heard that the food at the restaurant is really yummy too. We opted out last time because we knew the kids were too picky, and it wasn't worth the money. But maybe this time...

6. Vale Verde. Even before we moved here I read about Vale Verde. But we've yet to visit. I think my sister's trip here might just motivate us to get our behinds over there.

7. Go to hubby's concert. Of course. Best. Orchestra. In. Brazil.

8. Eat pão de queijo, drink cachaça, enjoy churrasacaria, eat by the kilo. All the yumminess we can handle.

9. Take the bus. This has been so much a part of my experience living here, I just think that she has to enjoy it with me. Plus, she is so incredibly awesome that she took "3 taxis, a motorized canoe, and a horse-cart" in a 10 hour trip, just to get her tourist visa. My sister rocks.

Other suggestions of sights to see in Minas Gerais/Belo Horizonte?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Two Posts in One Day!!

Cleaning the desk, catching up on emails, watching a movie with my hubby, doing laundry, buying winter pajamas for Bea! That's what happens when I get a moment to catch up. Oh, and I have the time to post again:

A very interesting article about a woman who has researched what happens in the brain when you are fluent in two languages. Sometimes I worry about the things that my children are not getting (less hours at school! no Girl Scouts! so little playing in green spaces!) and it helps me to remember what they are getting. My husband and I struggle daily to communicate. But they sound like Brazilians (and I LOVE IT when people tell me this). I break out in a sweat when I have to make a phone call. But my oldest gets on the phone and gets all the details about the birthday party she's invited too. The ability to fluently speak another language is something that has affected their brains, and hopefully will open up doors for them in the future. And yay for research that confirms our decisions, and makes me feel better about the many sacrifices we have made.

Learning songs for Festa Junina

In preparation for Festa Junina, the kid's school has formed a chorale. It's totally a hassle to convince the kids to go, and it's a little chaotic and unorganized, but I'm loving learning some new songs. The theme is Rio São Francisco, the only river that runs the entire Brazilian territory and the 4th largest river in South America (thanks wikipedia). Here are two of the "water" songs that we are learning.

Beira-Mar Novo (Folclore do Vale do Jequitinhonha)

Mamãe Oxum (she's the goddess of the river, of the Yoruba religion)