Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Trick-or -Treaters in Training

I took a few minutes Saturday afternoon while we were waiting for Zilda to arrive, to ‘practice’ trick-or-treating with Sam and Pete.

Pete has never been trick-or-treating and didn’t even get to dress up for Halloween last year. Two years ago, Sam trick-or-treated at one house, Nanny’s, and last year…well, last year was a total bust. For his first Halloween, Sam did a successful turn as Curious George, accompanied by his father as the Man in the Yellow Hat. For his second Halloween, we asked Sam what he wanted to be for Halloween. Since the only word he could say at the time was “bus”, he was a bus. Elise and I hand-crafted a wearable bus costume with working lights.

Last year, Sam told us he wanted to be Thomas the Train. In our infinite enthusiasm, neither Elise or I thought we would have any trouble hand-crafting a wearable Thomas the Train costume, in much the same vein we had constructed the wearable bus costume. What both Elise and I failed to realize was that we were a thousand times busier than we had been the year before. I tried throwing the thing together during naps on Halloween day, but we had bit off more than we could chew. There was no way I was going to get it done. A friend kindly lent us an engineer’s outfit for Sam to wear. Since I blocked most of the day out of my head, I can barely remember what Pete was. I vaguely remember Elise hot-gun-gluing cotton balls to a white onesie so Pete could be a lamb. The only reason I remember this is I remember picking up cotton balls all night from the gymnasium floor where we ended up celebrating Halloween and picking cotton balls out of Pete’s mouth later.

In order to avoid a repeat of last year, we ordered Pete and Sam costumes. They both wanted to be dinosaurs. I dreamed of crafting a T-Rex head out of chicken wire and paper mache, and, though we are not as crazed as we were last season, the fact of the matter is, I’m not that crafty. Elise got all the craftiness.

Sam’s costume has arrived via DPO and it looks AWESOME! I can’t wait for Petey’s to get here!

As both Sam and Pete are trick-or-treat novices, a little training was in order.

Both boys went outside and pretended to knock on the door. I pretended to be an unsuspecting old Brazilian lady. (I have no idea what would happen if we actually tried going trick-or-treating in our neighborhood as they don’t celebrate Halloween in Brazil.)

It took a couple of tries before Sam remembered to say “trick-or-treat”. Then, he skipped right over just “trick-or-treat” and went straight to “Happy trick-or-treat”. Probably the most polite mini-T-Tex you would ever meet.

Whenever I asked Sam what he was, he responded, “T-Rex of the ocean!” I’m not exactly sure where this comes from unless it is in one of his dinosaur books describing an elasmosaurus or ichthyosaurus as the T-Rex of the ocean.

Pete pretended to pick up bugs and give them to me every time I opened the door. I told him he had to wait to see if I would give him a treat first before he tricked me.

Then, we practiced with buckets. Elise had bought the boys orange plastic Jack-o-Lantern buckets for trick-or-treating. I handed the buckets to the boys and closed the door for more practice. Sam didn’t even get a chance to knock on the door, before Pete swung the bucket at the window as though he were trying to smash his way into the candy.

Finally, they just started running inside. Sam would knock on the door, I would answer, pretending to be the old lady at the door and they would just sprint by me, giggling wildly, running in circles in search of candy, as I was yelling, “Hey out of my house, you hooligans! Shoo! Shoo!”

This Friday, the boys will get to come to my office and trick-or-treat door to door in the building. It should be very fun. Though I’m hoping Pete doesn’t clock my boss or the Ambassador in the knee caps with a bucket full of candy. :)

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Devil (Still) Wears Baby Gap

Little Foosa, Big Attitude.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Chili Cook-off

Today was our first ever embassy chili cook-off. We schemed, we shopped (we emailed the chili champion of the world, my brother Dan) and we made a hot lunch date to cook together. Paul snuck home from work this afternoon on his lunch break, we put the kids down for naps and we chopped, diced and spiced our way to chili bliss.

How can you not love a man who cooks in a shirt and tie..with a ruffled apron bearing ric-rak? You just can't.

We whipped up a spicy, filet mignon, black and kidney bean chili, garnished it with our/Paul's famous guacamole, drizzled it with chipotle sour cream and finished it with fresh cilantro and Frito crumbs.

We did not win tonight, but we didn't need to win. We've already won.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bed Time(s)

I am unsure if when these kids grow up there is anything I will miss more than the end of the day. Bubbly wrinkled toes, combing tiny tousled heads of hair into business man-style swoops, zippy pj's, last sips of milk, bubble gum toothpaste kisses and sweet boys with folded hands praying for babies, "mom's baby," "all the babies everywhere," friends, every member of our family (we usually cut this off at about 15, sorry if you don't make the cut tonight) and well, lets be honest, sometimes "poopies."

The boys have finally started interacting as room-mates at bedtimes when we leave them to their own devices at 8:00 instead of like inmates rattling the bars in their cell and cursing at the 'guards.' They've been found reading together in Pete's crib on a number of occasions, and even given us an opportunity to sleep an extra few minutes when Sam delivers Pete a book to read when they wake up in the morning. Sam has begun referring to Pete as "My tiny little bitsy boy" and Pete to Sam as "Broder."

Pete: tiny, yet efficient.

P selecting another book in Portuguese for Mom to botch on page one and later dub in English.

P: "Mom really stinks at Portugese...and improv."

Who even sleeps like this? A frog, and Pete.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Fear in the Land of Plenty

As I mentioned in a previous post, we will soon return to the States to visit and family and friends, the first such trip after living a year in Brazil.

Living in Brazil is easy, but it’s not the U.S., the land of plenty. There are many things that are easier, but there are things that are harder, too, living in Brazil. Though we’ve gotten better at ordering out, it can still be a crap shoot. Little things like I got ham on the hamburger I ordered last Sunday from Giraffa’s. I’m pretty sure I didn’t ask for ham on it, but maybe I did by accident. Every hamburger seemingly comes with either ham, pineapple and/or a fried egg on it. I like mine traditional. American-style, if you will, so I always have to ask for it without it. Either way, it came with ham on it, and I ate it, one of many charms about living in Brazil…unexpected surprises.

There’s a commissary in the basement of my building, and by browsing through it, one gets a small sampling of the processed food cornucopia which awaits us: buffalo chicken wing-flavored Ruffles and Pop Tarts crispy thins. I’m all for innovation, even food innovation. But usually when I’m in the mood for chicken wings and potato chips, I’ll eat both chicken wings and potato chips, not chicken wing-flavored potato chips. Likewise, if I ever had a hankering for Wheat Thins and toaster pastries at the same moment, I would eat Wheat Thins and a toaster pastry. I wouldn’t think to eat a Pop Tart-filled cracker.

But this will be much of the excitement in returning to the States, indulging in that which we’ve had to go without for a year. It makes me appreciate the status of food in measuring the stability of one’s universe. I had always underestimated the power of food—especially familiar food, mom’s cooking—to make one feel whole. I understand it now.

I don’t even know if Sam still remembers his beloved Starbucks ‘sprinks doughnuts. He used to eat one a day. I’m guessing the reunion will be a happy one, nonetheless. Yes, I go on and on about Starbucks, but you have to understand it’s not about the coffee or the brand. Now, it is simply the joy of being able to get exactly what you want how you want it and the familiarity of a comfortable place to collect one’s thoughts, share them and plan and fuel for the day. I won’t rush to Taco Bell for a Nacho Cheese Chalupa Supreme or Burger King for flame-broiled patties. Starbucks will be enough for me.

Oh yea, and the beer. Brazilian beer is serviceable. But it’s not a Pacific Northwest microbrew or Fat Tire. I will drink my calories this trip, thank you very much.

I think Elise and I believe the fear will set in not so much when presented with the dearth of choice, but when re-introduced to the rigidness of American society. We are fond of saying there are no rules in Brazil. We only half-joke. Traffic laws seem more a suggestion than law. Traffic signals are optional. One can understand this mentality in a place where horse and buggies occasionally share the road with $100,000 Range Rovers. I have yet to see a tow truck in all of Brazil. You can park anywhere.

It’s not just in cars. Societal norms are looser. Sungas (speedos) are sported for midday walks down busy thoroughfares and in parks. Women jog in support-less bikini tops and knee-high socks. Young couples in love make out at bus stops and park benches. All would be judged quickly in the States.

We understand that many of the differences are cultural and whether you are more comfortable in one setting than another is very personal. We also appreciate that we derive the benefits of belonging to one of the most amazing and dynamic democracies on the planet. We are daily reminded of its shortcomings and faults and seem to forget its merits.

Maybe I am afraid that we won’t want to come back to Brazil. Somehow, though, I seem to doubt we will have that problem.


Monday, October 17, 2011

The Season of Bugs

Before coming to Brazil, we had read a lot about its two seasons, the rainy season and the dry season. What someone had left out of the literature was the buggy season.

Now, understand. It’s Brazil. Amazon jungle. Sprawling cerrado. Pantanal. The bugs, in and of themselves, were no surprise. In fact, they were much anticipated, and, since our arrival, we have managed, assimilating into our daily lives all the different sizes, colors, species, shapes and manners of bugs.

The dry season just ended. Over one hundred days without a single drop of rain or a single cloud. It went from winter to summer in less than a week. After two rains the grass went from dry, crackling and yellow—if there was grass at all—to a plush carpet of viridian. By the end of the week, the grass will be waist high.

According to Paulo, Pete’s beloved gardener, the first rain or two that ends the dry season is called the Chuva da Manga, the Mango Rain. The timing and ferocity of which will determine the size of the coming mango bounty. This year, the Chuva da Manga came late. Usually, as I was told, it comes by the last week or two of September. This year, it didn’t come until the beginning of October. But when it came, it came with a vengeance. And what is, as I understand, generally one or two isolated rains, this year, ushered in weeks of torrential, but deliciously welcome, downpours.

It also ushered in the bugs.

Two nights ago, while throwing my running clothes into the washing machine, I accidently left on the light that illuminates the bay window in front of the service area. Swarms of flying beetles started hurtling themselves at the frosted glass to get to the light. The night before, as I was taking out the trash, I heard the rhythmic pinkling of what I originally thought to be rain, for it was that persistent. It was the sound of bugs banging their carapaced heads against the glass globe of the security lamps in front of our house. Thousands of them. Fortunately, the flying ants—termites, maybe?—only lasted a few days.

Then, there is the sound. During the day, the sound of the beetles rubbing their wings together fabricates an omnipresent whine. There is one type of beetle that literally sounds like it is screaming at the top of its lungs.

Soon, we will return to the States for the first time in a year. It will be winter, and we will leave the bugs behind. Though I don’t mind the bugs, I know Elise hopes the buggy season is over by the time we come home.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Dia das Criancas!

Kids Day!! We've said it before, Brazilians love kids. It is both equally awesome and a huge break from the US's often "love to hate kids" mentality at our most kid-full time. There isn't a place I can think of here that when we walk in with the boys we feel unwelcome or are the recipients of any eye rolling or sideways glances. This includes a nice restaurant filled with couples, any store, bank or auto dealer. Last Wednesday was a Brazilian national holiday, Nossa Senhora Aparecida, but most of the country (as I understand) celebrates instead, Dia das Criancas, or Day of Kids. Much like Christmas is officially the birth o' Christ, but we prefer to make up stories about a jolly old fat man in a red velvet suit, delivering gifts to kids on a magic sled driven by tiny deer. We are all so alike is so many ways.

Sam's school celebrated all week long, by letting the kids dress in their street clothes and by scheduling a different fun activity each day of the week. On Tuesday they had a special story day on Thursday, Sam rode a bus down the street to a teacher's home (try that in the US) and had a picnic lunch in her backyard with his friends and played in the homes tree house filled with toys. On Friday the preschool's Capoeira teacher turned futebol buff, and the kids played soccer all morning then returned home with goodies bags filled with candy, stickers, games and prizes. Not to mention many congrats and kisses for being a kid, from his teacher, Tia Patty. Being a kid in Brazil is a pretty posh gig.

On Wednesday, as a family, we hit up Parque de Cidade, the city park, to find some hot kid action of our own. The place was mobbed, a la Disney World on spring break. A typically silly wonderland of unitards, knee high sport socks and athletic fun, was further infiltrated by marching bands, clowns, plays, shows, free popcorn, cotton candy and free go kart rides for all children over three. (Again, go karts for three year olds! I adore the anxiety-free, good times spirit of this place). We offered to let Sam go for a ride, accompanied by a side-saddle sitting adult driver, but he choose not to go. Cautious spirit that he is, he chose to play on the playground with his dad instead. Peter on the other hand, hung fence-side with me and waved to all the drivers, while making race car noises and pointing out the colors of each car. He'd have slapped on a helmet in a second, had they reduced the age to one. True.

We wandered the park, snagged free balloons and played on the playground. Pete even "got all Brazilian on us" taking off his shirt and flashing thumbs up (a way cool gesture here) at passers-by. A day of Kids was had by all...especially me who had an extra 19 weeks of crianca in my person.

Let there be Kids Day in all the world and let it begin with Brazil!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Tea Time


Yes, both boys washing dishes. Thank you, dual sinks.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Definition of Hardship

Yesterday my office hosted three women from Washington, D.C. in Brazil to assess the hardship differential and cost of living allowance I receive in my paycheck for living and working in Brazil as opposed to the United States.

I had no interest in attending a meeting I knew would devolve into a gripe session. Elise and I like Brazil. We’re happy here. We don’t feel put upon or that we are suffering any undue hardship. We quickly discovered many things, including: that hardship means different things to different people, that there is a line between a situation that is placed upon you by undue hardship and a situation that is placed upon you by your own personal choice and that, even in 2011, some people haven’t heard of ordering stuff cheaper on the Internet and having it shipped to you for free.

I’m not trying to lose money. If these three women in coming to visit Brasilia deem that we are living in circumstances of extreme hardship and want to compensate me monetarily for it, who am I to say no? The way I figure it, we just pulled a fast one on them.

Everyone in the room got a turn to say how living in Brazil has caused them some form of hardship. Many were legitimate. A few were not. Some were comical. A single guy raised his hand and stated that it was a hardship that there was nothing to do in Brasilia and that when he went out to a club he had to wait in line and pay a 40 reais cover charge. Hardship or personal choice? Maybe get a hobby? I don’t know. Rent some movies on Netflix? Elise’s mom used to tell her, “Only boring people get bored.” She now uses the same line on Sam.

Is it expensive to live in Brazil? Without a doubt. According to The Economist magazine’s Big Mac Index, Brazil has the world’s 4th most expensive Big Mac, the equivalent of $9.50. A large plain cheese pizza at Pizza Hut is $35. I couldn’t tell you what it is in the States. But we can also walk out into the median of the road in front of our house and knock mangos from the mango trees there. Those are free. Even though it entails throwing rocks back and forth in the median of a busy commuter thoroughfare.

But we don’t have to have a maid, a gardener, go to Pilates, eat Big Macs or buy $500Nikes on the local economy. Those are all personal choices. Not hardships.

The meeting did help me to understand a facet of the hardship differential that I hadn’t thought much about. Brasilia can be isolating. I had always thought of this in the most literal way, physical and geographical isolation. Though it is a large city, it sits more or less out in the middle of nowhere. Imagine if in 1950, President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced that he was moving the capital of the United States from Washington, D.C. to Lincoln, Nebraska. Elise has called it Nebrasilia. You get the picture.

But much more so than physical or geographic isolation, one experiences social isolation. I never experienced this, because I work, come home, play with my kids and spend time with my wife. That is pretty much the extent of my social sphere. But it can be crippling for someone who doesn’t have a car or speak Portuguese. To not be able to leave the house or not have the ability to communicate with anyone is a hardship. I still haven’t figured out how to order coffee here. Every time I do, whether I ask for cappuccino, espresson, café culado, café italiano, it comes differently. It’s like roulette or the lottery, a complete game of chance. Elise and I are Starbucks fans. There are no Starbucks in Brasilia. Now, THAT’S hardship.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The 3 A's of Parenting

As Elise alluded to in the previous post, last weekend was an exceptionally trying one. Some unknown malevolent force had taken possession of Sam and transmogrified him from the sweet and happy boy we all know and love into a petulant, brooding, insouciant brat. I couldn’t believe some of the things coming out of his mouth because I could never before fathom him being capable of saying such things or even for the life of me imagine where he could have picked them up. Things like, “You never let me do what I want to do!” What’re you talking about!? All we ever do is what you want to do! Ahh! “I’m so mad at you!” Well, not nearly as mad as I’m about to get at you, now go to your room!

You get the picture.

What Elise and I have failed to appreciate until very recently is that Sam is growing. Obviously, we recognized the fact that he is growing physically (boy, is he ever!), but he is also growing mentally and emotionally. Sometimes, it is easy to think that he will always be the happy go-lucky Sam-O that is content making Thomas train tracks on the play room floor, but, sadly, this will not be the case. He will need more. He will yearn for more and not always know how to ask for it. He will be bored. We will bore him.

This is where the 1st “A” comes in. Activity.

Sam always fairs better out of the house. This should come as no surprise to us. As a baby, he loved being outside. The favorite part of his day were the early evening walks around Abacoa to the crickets chirping madly in the high grass or just playing on the front stoop. This is still the case. The boy needs scenery. He needs change. School helps, and he will go five days a week soon. He wants to go. He just doesn’t quite want to admit it to us.

The 2nd “A” is Attention.

Sam always is in a better mood when I give him my undivided attention, whether that be by reading books with him tucked under my arm in the evening, watching him climb the jungle gym at the park or pretending to be X-Men (he calls it the Ching-Ching Game, aptly titled after the sound Wolverine’s claws make when they clash together. Sam call him “Loverine”. The ‘real’ Wolverine would be appalled). This should seem obvious. Every boy needs his dad. This seems especially true of Sam. I don’t think I do anything special to fill any particular need he has. It’s not like he can’t live without the pancakes I make in the morning or the way we say prayers at night before I tuck him into bed or the way I drop him off at school with a “Kiss and hug kiss and hug”. Or maybe it is. I don’t know.

Many of my colleagues at work are having to take jobs in offices where their families can’t accompany them. I could never, ever do that to Sam.

The problem last weekend was all I did all weekend was give him my undivided attention, and it wasn't working. All it was doing was exhausting me and pissing Sam off more. We managed to kill many birds with one stone on Wednesday, when I had a rare mid-week day off for a Brazilian holiday, Dia das Criancas, or Day of the Kids. We got everyone to Parque da Cidade and even flirted with the idea of going go-karting. Though we didn't hop behind the wheels of mini-Formula 1 cars, we played a lot and seemingly melted away most of Sam's inner ennui. By the time he woke up from nap, he was starting to act vaguely...normal.

Recently, at the kitchen table, I described to Elise my theory behind Sam’s defiant behavior and my plan to address, “The 3 A’s. Activity. Attention and…”

I didn’t have a third “A”.

“Alcohol,” Elise quickly chimed in.

I laughed. It was perfect.

Earlier in the day...I think it was before 9...Sam opened the fridge and offered me a beer. I appreciated his thoughfulness, and his acts of thoughtfulness are becoming more frequent. What does it say about me that I actually thought about taking him up on it? I mean, Brazilians grocery shop at 8 in the morning with a cold can of Skol in hand. When in Brazil, right? Yeah...it had been a long weekend. :)

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Parenthood

I won't lie, this weekend was not pretty in the 'hood.' The children nearly killed us, drive by sassing, looting our hearts with tiny fireballs of parental destruction, hand to hand brotherly combat. Just about the time we threw our hands up in the air waving dish rags of surrender, things began to turn around. Three day weekend and the last four hours saved it from complete and total destruction. By the evenings end, Paul and I sat down for dinner, a rare occasion where we save our meal to enjoy post bed-time and listened to a light banter coming from the boys room. Usually the bedtime routine ends with them yelling "GO!" at each other from crib to toddler bed, tonight I stepped away from my plate to witness a moment that healed my heart from the weekends brutal beating: Sam read to Peter from Richard Scarry's Busy Busy Town, "Sweeper" and a tiny voice would repeat from the crib, "weeper." "Dump truck," "ump fruck," and so on (until Pete started crying for more milk.) For the ten minutes that it lasted we listened, giggling quietly from outside their door and silently gave thanks for saving our lives in the weekends last moments.