Wednesday, February 29, 2012

the saga of Transporte Escolar, the end!

All your readers out there are probably getting a little tired of this saga.  And thankfully, I'm reporting that yesterday the motorista/driver came, he dropped Sebastian off at school, and brought him home at the end of the day.  Hooray!  And the same thing happened today!  In the words of one of my co-workers, "Thanks God it worked out!"<br>

Mangosteen and Groselha

Hi there.  I teach at one of the campuses on "Fruit Day."  Fruit Day is common for preschools here (from what I can tell; it's done at Maple Bear and at Escola da Serra).  Kids bring some kind of fruit from home to their class, and then the teacher talks about the name of the fruit, the color, if anyone has tried it, etcetera.  Then the teacher cuts it up the fruit and serves it to the kids.  It's a great teaching tool, and it helps the kids to try different kinds of fruit (peer pressure works for 4 year olds).  I've decided that this year I'm going to do a better job at looking at the leftovers from fruit day, and trying some of the bounty. 

Today, I tried two first.  The first was Mangosteen: 

I'd heard about Mangosteen before.  Back when I used to go to the YMCA in Tempe, there was a poster for Mangosteen Juice right in front of the stair master.  So I'd stare at the poster while I was working out (apparently it's super healthy).  The casca (peel) is SUPER yucky.  The ladies who clean the school got a good laugh when I started spitting out the peel.  But the white, inside part is very sweet and a little creamy. 

I also tried groselha:

I found it to be a bit sour, and kind of watery, but I would eat it again.  Any guesses on what we call this fruit in English? 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

the saga of Transpore Escolar, part 2

Ug.  Our motorista did not show up at 12:30 yesterday.  I tried calling him all morning (on all three of his phone numbers) but there was never an answer.  Of course in retrospect, I realize that I should have called him on Friday, Saturday and maybe even Sunday to make sure all the details were clear.  My Portuguese is improving, but it's still not 100% trustworthy.  Especially with these kind of the details.  I had to drop Matt and the girls off at their school (it was too early to drop the girls off by themselves) and then drive across town with Sebastian.  And then drive home at the end of the day.  Boo.

But, the funny thing is that the motorista did show up at 1:05 and spoke with our empregada.  Then my husband called him later, and made arrangements for him to come today.  I guess he wasn't clear on the time.  So we're going to try it again.  Oh please, let him come today.  I'll let you know.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

the saga of Transporte Escolar

I shared last year about our decision to move Sebastian to the school where I work.  Way back in September when I enrolled him, I asked the school's van driver if he could drive Sebastian.   School transportation is one of those realities that one has to deal with here.  If you have the ability, you send your kids to private schools.  But, private schools don't offer (free) transportation.  I wonder if free public transportation for school children is a phenomena unique to the United States.  So if you can't walk to school or take the kids yourself, you have to hire a van.

Most of the time, these vans are operated by people who are not associated with the schools.  In Belo Horizonte, you can go the BHTrans website and find companies that work with your child's school and service your neighborhood.  However, Sebastian's school has it's own van (kind of).  The owner's husband purchased a van, and he can be hired to pick up and drop off your child.  How convenient!  I already knew the guy, he knows the school, he's good with kids.  Great.

So, back in December, I talk to him, and he tells me that they are probably going to have to buy another van, but again he reassures me it's no problem.  This is when I should have been worried.  And it very well may have been that he was giving me some big, Brazilian clues (inferred, implied) that I should look into other options.  However, I'm not Brazilian.  And my Portuguese does not include inferences and subtle hints.  And Mineiros (Brazilians?!?) don't like to say no.  So I took him for his word.  He told me to contact him in January.  I got his email.  And like a good and responsible mom, I emailed him in January, assuming that it was still going to be "no problem." 

He mentioned that he needed to make another route, and he would be in touch with me.  Again, I should have seen the warning signs.  But at this point I was still in the states, and I didn't know what else I could do.

We returned to Brazil two days before school started, so I knew that I wasn't going to be able to figure this out for the first day.  I had already planned to drive to Sebastian to school (especially since I would be working there the first day).  After teaching, I searched out the van driver, and tried to get an answer from him.  And finally he was straight answer:  there wasn't room in the van.  They needed another van.  He didn't know when that was going to happen.  Then I started to panic--did he know anyone who could help me?  Any suggestions, and he said he would help.  At least as far as I could understand.

The next few days I probably made 50 different phone calls.  I called all the numbers on the BHTrans website.  I wrote down every number of every van I saw in the general vicinity of the school.  I called friends asking for help.  I talked to parents.  And all the while I was calling the van driver, asking for help.  No luck.  I also spent between 2 and 3 hours each day driving across town to get Sebastian to and from school.  Traffic has gotten worse.  It was not fun.

After a week and a half, the driver tells me that they have an opening in the evening, and he can take Sebastian home from school.  Great!  I asked when he thought he'd get Sebastian home.  "Oh, about 7:30 pm."  An hour after school is done.  Not great, but not bad.  Unfortunately it ended up taking almost 2 hours for Sebastian to get home.  We started getting worried, and Sebastian was miserable.  And I don't blame him:  who wants to spend that much time in a van?!

I spent another few hours making phone calls, and realized that we were going to have to go the route of a motorista (driver).  I'd heard other people talking about drivers, and always thought, "I'd never be one of those kind of people."  Well, never say never.  On Friday, I finally talked to a motorista that wasn't charging an arm and a leg, and said he was willing to do it.  So, hopefully tomorrow we'll be testing out this driver, and Sebastian and I will be riding across town in the comfort of someone else's car.

What have I learned from this?  Unfortunately, I think that I've learned that I need to be a little more careful in trusting promises.  I probably should have learned this based on the vazamento experience.  I also (again) have realized that I need to continue to work on my Portuguese.  I wish I could say that I've also realized that "it will all work out in the end," because it always does (by some miracle).  But in this case,  I just feel more frustrated than thankful that it has "worked out."  But, if it all does work out, I can feel good that I was able to make all those phone calls in Portuguese and actually be understood!

Reflections on flying internationally with children

I would by no means call myself a seasoned international traveler.  Nor would I consider myself an expert on flying with children.  But having done it twice, I've learned somethings. 

1.  If at all possible, don't fly by yourself with kids.  When we moved to Brazil, I had to do it.  It was really hard, but I survived it.  One of the most vivid (and unpleasant) memories was trying to navigate  Guarulhos, the airport in São Paulo.  My memories from 2010 were that it was blazing hot, way too crowded, dirty, and had NO helpful signs for finding customs or baggage claim.  We had a 10 hour (ug) layover in São Paulo on the way to the States, and now I found Guarulhos to be spacious, somewhat easy to get around, and clean.  I really don't think anything was different; it was just that my perspective and comfort level had changed. 

But all that to say, that crazy trip to Brazil in 2010 was very difficult.  Flying to the states in December 2011 with my husband (and older children) was a piece of cake.  When you can, enlist help.

2.  Take the long flight at night.  We had a heck of a time looking online for flights that were at a somewhat decent hour.  We finally ended up going with a travel agent that was GREAT (email me if you want his info).  He found flights we couldn't find online.  We left São Paulo at about 10 pm, and arrived in Atlanta at about 6 am.  It's never easy to sleep on a plane, but it was much better for our children to spend the long flight attempting to sleep.  Or watching hours and hours of movies.

3.  Snacks.  I packed what I thought was WAY too much on the way to the states.  I essentially filled a mini roller suitcase and brought it on the plane.  I made cocoa krispy treats a few days before we left, and emptied our pantry before we left, packing raisins, craisins, any and all candy, apples, tangerines, nuts, granola bars, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, crackers, and so on.  This was a life saver.  We bought some lunch in São Paulo (3 pay by the kilo plates for about R$75.  holy expensive, batman!), but found the McDonalds ice cream cones to be great (R$2).  And sometimes you just don't have time to buy food between flights, or you have to wait FOREVER on the plane for food to be served.  So like the boy scouts say, be prepared. 

4.  Hit up the Duty Free stores to mask unpleasant body odors.  There's no way to avoid being stinky when traveling for 30 + hours.  Unfortunately both me and my hubby were smelling foul by the time we got to the airport in Belo Horizonte.  Don't be shy; spray away!

5.  Entertainment.  We hit up the Banco de Jornais (or dollar store in the states) and got stickers, activity books, magazines and gum.  I printed out some activities for the kids, got extra books on the Kindle, and on the way back my husband downloaded some aps for his iPad (Monopoly, Tetris, some silly Little Miss Spider game).  We tried to keep ourselves and the kids occupied.  And for the most part, it worked.

6.  Use jeito.  I don't want to go into all the nitty gritty details here, but there was some luggage that we really needed to get back to Brazil.  We should have paid some extra to make sure it wouldn't be a problem, but for various reasons we didn't do so.  In the past we were able to gate check this luggage.  But our flight from SEA to Atlanta was full, and the airline employee was a little cranky.  She was giving us a very hard time, but thankfully at the last moment they gate checked it (along with having to "fully" check the carry on luggage that had all our other important things, like the new Wii, the camera and some presents).   But thankfully when we got to Atlanta, we were reunited with the important stuff.  We got lucky in Atlanta, and a sympathetic Delta manager actually gave us an extra seat for our item.  Whoa.  My husband then suggested that we buy a seat on our flight from São Paulo to BH to avoid any other problems, and we decided that we would do so in São Paulo.  But our flight was a little late, it took a long time to get through customs, and the transfer gate for Gol was INSANE.  Crazy as in the attendants were calling out flights, "flight to Rio leaving in 10 minutes.  Please step to the front of the line."  So of course, we didn't get checked into our flight until 5 minutes before it was supposed to leave.  The woman there told us there was NO way we could get through security with our extra luggage, and it was too late to buy a ticket.  We schmoozed, we were patient, we did not give in.  Finally the lady let us go, but told us that we wouldn't even be able to get through security.  Of course, we made it thru security, and were the last ones to get on the flight.  The stewardess asked if we had a ticket for our item, we said no, but there was an extra seat (we got soooo lucky).  She just wanted to close the door for the airplane, so she just told us to sit down.  Like I said, we were lucky, and we used jeito.  But both my husband and I agreed that we wouldn't ever try that again. 

And a word on bringing things to Brazil.  Be careful.  We know of people that buy things in the States and then bring them back to sell.  Some make it through customs with no problems, others end up having to pay the import taxes.  We decided that it just wasn't worth it to us to take the risk, and even though having kids might make it "appear" easier, we didn't want to submit them to any additional waiting. 

7.  Try to enjoy yourself.  It's not really so fun to travel, but the fact that we get to travel means that we have the resources to do so.  There are many people that live away from family and from what they consider home, and have no way to return.  So in those crazy moments in the middle of the night when your 4 year old needs to poop, just try to remember what it's all about.  When you are sprinting through the airport with 80 pounds of luggage, remember that you have lots of great stuff in that luggage.  Laugh at the in-flight magazine.  Eat chocolate with your kids.  Make fun of the security videos.  You'll be to your destination soon.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


On our way to the bloco on Tuesday, a gentleman approached us.

"American?" he asked.

"Yes...." I responded, hesitating a minute.

"Do you have a blog? Daily Mango?"

"Um, yes."

Wow. A very nice man who lives around the corner from us reads my blog, and recognized us. Maybe it was screaming children? The slightly-dented Fusca? The obnoxious family speaking English? I'm flattered. And I'm so sorry I already forgot your name, so send me an email when you can! srkelz at gmail dot com.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Carnaval in Belo Horizonte

Yes, I know.  Carnaval is "officially" over.  It is Ash Wednesday, and stores were back open today, and I even saw a few school vans driving around.  But I was so busy having fun, I didn't get around to posting until today.  Back when were were in the states (hard to believe, it really was only 2 1/2 weeks ago that we left), I briefly entertained the thought of heading to Rio for Carnaval.  But since we've never been, I thought I'd postpone that trip until we could all go together.  And from all that I understand, Carnaval in Rio isn't really for kids.  Then we were going to go to Campos Altos with a family from the kid's school, where they have a "traditional" small town Carnaval party (i.e. not historic city drunken craziness).  But we were a little late at making arrangements, and renting a car was more expensive than we had anticipated (duh, it's Carnaval).  So, we opted to stay at home in BH and make the most of it here.  And I have to say that I'm glad we did.  The Carnaval fun started for us last weekend.  We had a few friends over on Sunday for Indian food, and in the middle of the afternoon we heard and INCREDIBLY loud noise.  We convinced the kids to put their shoes on and go for a walk.  We walked out the front of our building, and there was a bloco passing by!  On our quiet little street!  It was the bloco for a bar that's around the corner from us, and it was really small, but it was my first bloco, so I loved it.  People were dressed up, singing and marching to music blaring from a car stereo.  We only walked about 200 feet with them, but it was fun to see it.  No pictures though, because we had to hurry out of the apartment to catch it.

On Thursday, the girls had their "grito de carnaval" at school.  They dressed up, brought confetti and serpentina (streamers) and celebrated at school.  There was a band to greet them when they arrived:

I didn't get to see them at school, because I had to take Sebastian to his school.  Which is a whole other blog post of itself.  But Matt didn't take any pictures of the butterfly (Beatrice) or of Dora, who had spent the night at a friends house and came to school covered in eye shadow, blush and lipstick.  I really wish he would have got a picture of that.  

Friday was the Carnaval fun day at Maple Bear.  I brought scarves, the kids dressed up and brought confetti and serpentina and we just danced and ran around.  Which is about normal for playground time.  But I had fun.

Saturday we invited some friends over for pizza and beer.  Yum!

Sunday we went to a friends house for churrasco (barbeque).   They made ribs, picanha, and tropeiro (a mix of beans, farofa, eggs, and other yummy things).  After we had been there for 5 hours, I was starting to get the kids ready to go, but the hostess told me I couldn't go because she hadn't made the cake yet!  Oops!  So we stayed for another hour and ate Rocambole, a rolled cake filled with dulce de leite (a thick creamy caramel-like sauce made from sweetened condensed milk).  

Laura and Bea

Kids watching a move


Beatrice got a hold of Marcio's camera and took this and many other pictures

Monday we went to another friends house for a Carnaval party.  We went to these same friends house last year for Carnaval, and I was AMAZED at the quantity of confetti that was thrown.  This year was no different.  Except that they held the party in their salão das festas (the apartment buildings "party room" that can be rented).  And I was stilled amazed by the amount of confetti.  Let's just say that there was confetti in my underwear, and I will be sweeping up confetti in our apartment for at least the next week.  We ate more ribs, lots of salgados, candy, sweets, chips, guacamole, cookies and danced and played and danced.  The kids swam and played video games.  And I had a LOT of fun. Unfortunately, no pictures.  We were too busy having fun to even pull the camera out.

On Tuesday,  we went to a bloco in Santa Tereza.  It was small and very short for Brazilian standards (only about an hour), but it was perfect for our tired American kids.  We just don't know how to party like Brazilians.  At least not yet.

My mom made me come

Me and Beatrice

The skinny dancer

The not so skinny dancer
I loved the dancers in this bloco.  As my friend Corinne said (via FB), in BH you get to see the non-ripped, non-siliconed sambistas.  It was nice to see people looking like people, with normal bodies. 

And it was loud.  

But we had fun, thanks to our many friends here.  Now it's time to get back to work for my one day work week.  And then it's a weekend with at least one party.  Thanks Brazil!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Things to stock up on

***updated list, thanks to comments!**
First, I must preface this list with wise words that my sister gave me.  Before we made the move to Brazil, she said that we should think about one thing that will make us feel at home, no matter where we are.  That is the thing that you have to make sure that you pack/stock up on/bring with you.  My husband always says that having art on the walls makes him feel at home, so we brought some nice unframed canvases with us.  It only took us a year and a half to get them up on our walls, but having these made our place seem like home to my husband.  For me, it was the French Press and a big coffee mug.  I'm not as particular about my coffee as my sister (or my husband for that matter), but having a the ability to make coffee the way I like, and a nice big mug to drink it out of made me feel at home.  So for all of you out there thinking about making the plunge to another country, I advise you to think this one over, and plan.

Now, here is the list of things that we stock up when we go to the states.  Some of the items are a bit random and specific to our professions, but I'm putting it all out there for you to get an idea.

1.  Shoes.  We buy shoes that fit the kids now, and shoes that they will grow into.  Tennis shoes, dress shoes, crocs, sandals, rain boots... you think you'll want it, buy it and bring it.

2.  Clothes.  I don't care so much about brands/names.  Heck, I spent probably close to USD $200 just at Goodwill (have I mentioned how much I LOVE Goodwill?)  But I bought lots, and lots, and lots of clothes.  Jeans, shirts, socks, underwear, baseball hats, jackets and on and on. 

3.  Chili powder.  If you like to make Mexican food, bring Chili powder.  You can get it here, but it's pricey.  I like to make Enchilada sauce.

4.  Cardamom (pods or ground).  Again, you can find it here, but it's CRAZY expensive.  Oh, and red and/or yellow lentils to make Indian Daal.  Can't find them here.

5.  Razors.  Expensive here. 

6.  Make Up.  I don't wear much, but it's so much easier and cheaper to get in the states.  You can usually find it on sale in the states (again, I'm a Target/Walgreens kinda girl), and the cheap USD$5 pressed powder is much better quality than the R$20 stuff sold at O Boticário.  Or you can splurge and buy Lancome and get all those free samples;  those kind of promotions never happen in Brazil.  At least as far as I've seen.

7.  Pencil sharpeners and pencils.  I don't know why this has annoyed me so much, but I've had a heck of a time with Brazilian pencils and sharpeners.  The lead always breaks, or the pencil sharpener breaks, or just does a crappy job.  I saw an electric pencil sharpener that would normally sell for about USD $35 here at Kalunga for R$150. 

8.  Tupperware.  Plastic storage pieces are crazy pricey in Brazil.

9.  Materials in English.  I have a daughter who can read a book a day if given the opportunity.  We bought a kindle, but I always try to bring back some books for her.  I hit up Goodwill and get the Newberry Classics or other award-winners.  I also bring back curriculum for work, teaching materials, and my husband brings back sheet music.  He claims you can't buy classical sheet music in Brazil.

10.  Pipe cleaners.  They don't exist here.  Handy for little kid crafts.

11.  Toys.  I bought all the kid's birthday presents, extra presents to give, puzzles, markers, and games.  Worth every cent.  Especially since I got after-Christmas sale prices.

12.  Backpacks and lunch boxes.  Found some on clearance in the States.  Waayy over priced here.

13.  Chocolate chips.  My husband makes really REALLY good cookies.  They sell something that looks like a chocolate chip here, but it's not real chocolate.  So we buy several bags in the states.

14.  Maple Syrup extract.  Rather than take up extra space in our luggage, I just buy the extract and make my own syrup.  But then again, I am that kind of person. 

15.  Ziploc bags.  I don't think I've seen them here, and Americans kinda like them.  I'm so thrifty that I wash mine and reuse them.  But then again I was already doing that in the states...

16. Peanut butter.  You can find it now (Verdemar, my hubby has seen Peter Pan brand for R$12, and I think last year he bought a jar of Skippy for R$20.  But it's not always there). 

That's all I have time for now.  Am I missing anything, fellow expats?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Spanish language mistakes

I've been lucky enough to connect with the music teacher at the Elementary school in my home town in Cashmere, WA.  I got to see her again in January, and observed her class a few times.  Since she did me the favor of letting me sit in on her classes, I thought I'd return it by teaching her students a little capoiera.  My kids have taken capoeira classes at school, so I asked them to help.  We had a great time practicing with Grandma and Grandpa, and my kids were really excited to share.

However, I can now add to my accomplishments swearing at native Spanish speakers while trying to teach Portuguese.  You may remember my language boo boo with the " song.  Well, while talking to the first and second graders about capoeira, I asked them to make a "roda."  Then I told them that "roda" meant circle in Portuguese, and asked them to repeat it several times with me.  "Roda, roda, roda."    I saw the Spanish speaking kids snicker.  And then as they repeated "roda" several times (again), and started getting embarrassed, I was stumped.  It wasn't until I got home that I remembered that "roda" is pronounced like "joda" which comes from "joder" in Spanish.  If you don't know what that means, look

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The best way to bring your stuff to Brazil

Brazilians making shopping trips to the US has been in the news quite a bit.  Prices on certain items in Brazil are so high that many upper class and middle class Brazilians have found it cheaper to buy a flight, hotel rooms, and the item desired than to buy it in Brazil.  So, you can imagine that American expats in Brazil get really excited about shopping when they make visits back to the States.  My family was surprised by the amount of shopping that we did, and the amount of money that we spent.  I'm a notorious cheapskate, coupon clipper and bargain hunter.  Prior to moving to Brazil, I was very VERY frugal, and was very careful with our budget and our expenses.  I'm still careful, but living in Brazil has made me have to relax.  But it's fun to go back to the US with my big shopping list, and hit the stores.  

And we've found the best way to bring back all our stuff.  My sister shared her travel secret with me, and now I'll share it with you.  First, don't bother with buying extra suitcases to bring to Brazil.  Go to Target, and buy Rubbermaid 18 Gallon Totes (usually priced between US$7 and US$10).

Don't skimp and buy the Sterilite ones because they tops break too easily.  Don't forget that each traveler can bring 2 pieces of luggage, so I'd suggest buying as many of these puppies as you can.  These will easily hold between 50 and 70 pounds (50 pounds is the limit for US domestic travel, 70 lbs for travel to Brazil).  You probably could buy the 22 Gallon Tubs, but I think they are a little more difficult to maneuver and get in and out of taxis and cars.  Also, buy 2 TSA approved locks for each Tote (also found at Target), and "zip ties" or cable ties (see image below):

Then you should drill 4 holes in the top corners WITH THE LID ON.  You don't want to drill too close to the edge of the tote/lid, but make sure that your locks are long enough so that the hole you drill doesn't have to be too close to the edge.

Then fill that thing up of all your stuff.  Really cram it in there.  You can use clothes, socks, feminine hygiene products, etcetera to cushion.  But fill it up.  If it's tight, it should hold about 50 pounds.  Make sure you make a list of everything you put in, and put that list inside the box and keep a copy with you.  Also put the address of your final destination inside.  Then put 2 locks through two opposite corners, and zip ties through the other corners.  Put the address of your final destination on the outside also, and tape all the edges closed with duct tape or packing tape.  My sister got a strap, but we've always just used tape:

The beauty of these totes is that they are much cheaper (and in my opinion more durable) than buying luggage.  They are great for storing things (we've even kept them outside, and they've kept sealed enough to keep moisture out).   Plus, these things are hard to find in Brazil, and from about 5 minutes of research online, they run for R$50 on Mercado Livre.  So, even if you don't want to keep them, you can easily sell them.

Hope this helps!