Saturday, October 27, 2012

Halloween 2012: Part One

It started out innocently enough, like most Halloweens do: an idea, and a few cans of spray paint and some faux fur.

No? This isn't how your Halloweens begin? Well ours typically do.

We recently bought a new movie to watch for family movie night, Horton Hears a Who. If you've seen it you know JoJo...if you haven't, please meet JoJo. 

The underdog of the movie, the Mayor of Whoville's eldest son of 96 girls... JoJo. It was all JoJo all week, Peter was in love. When I tried to confirm costumes to order or make for the boys with time for transit or a few nights to construct, Pete blurted out, "JoJo!" When I asked him why, he responded confidently, "because JoJo saves the day!" 

What kind of mother could say no to that? wait, I said yes, after suggesting every other conceivable dinosaur or action figure I could imagine.  

Sadly like Max from Where the Wild Things Are, dinosaurs, elephants and ninjas, there is no JoJo costume to be purchased in the world. So I set to work with my mediocre (but headed toward fashion week) sewing and pattern-making skills to make Peter into JoJo....and Sam into Lion Man (Sam's alter-ego, a figment of his imagination)...and Clem? No boring store-bought insect costumes here. Clementine would be the flower on which the speck resides, in which Whoville is housed....the Whoville that JoJo saves. Perfection. Or so I hoped.

A few trips to Taguatinga, a satellite city of Brasilia, mecca of cheap crafts (think the Michaels of Brazil, spread out on cobbled streets and alleyways lined with VW buses selling pao de queijo and tiny plastic cups of acai out of the backs of car trunks) and I was on my way to Project Halloweenway.

A friend led me to a store selling nearly exclusively things for the insanity that I was about to embark on: faux furs in all thickness and colors and spray paint. 

Armed with three yards of various faux furs, a throat full of faux fur balls,  a Coke and a few coxinhas I set off toward home to turn my dining table into my workroom and Pete, Sam and Clem into the best JoJo, Lion Man and Flower I could. 

I made homemade patterns, sewed zippers (seriously!), spheres, dyed leggings, made shoe covers, lined hats and trimmed wigs...and just four weeks later.....

Jo Jo:

Lion Man: 

and the flower that carries the speck (see wobbly balled headband) in which Whoville resides came to life:


Yesterday afternoon we trick-or-treated at all the offices of the embassy. Once Peter stopped yelling and crying, "My hair is too wild!" He loosened up and had fun...with the help of a little candy and pipoca.

Sam, growled and used the powers of Lion Man to all that passed and scurried behind Paul and I when anything even remotely scary passed by, my child no doubt.

Clem smiled and giggled and took in absolutely every piece of this crazy holiday. Headband bobbling she passed out smiles to everyone that passed out candy.

Faces of JoJo

Lion Man off duty:

The CLO (Community Liason Office) threw a happy hour after the treating, to both celebrate the day and to bid "Hail and Farewell" to the newcomers and us in our final weeks.

We listened to music, ate (more) popcorn, drank caipirinhas and danced.

Clem's first Halloween: a success.

My future as a costume designer for the Broadway musical Cats: well on its way to success.

My little blond boy turned a black-haird, EMO JoJo: The Who who saves the day: Check.

Bring it on Halloween 2013, bring it on. (I'm starting costumes next week.)

Friday, October 19, 2012


 A flight attendant friend once told me the most critical times during a flight are the initial and final 1,000 feet during takeoff and landing. I'd say with the utmost certainty that we've just pulled our wheels up and are within that critical 1,000 feet.

We are no strangers to the sights or sounds of airplanes in Brasilia or on our conjunto. The combination of the endlessly wide Brasilia sky and our home's proximity to the wet (and dry) season's flight paths make them a fixture in our everyday life.

When we first arrived they constantly reminded me of how we'd arrived, those first moments, the sights, sounds and smells and how far away the time was that we'd leave. They fly over on a schedule, with tired pilots, bored flight attendants and empty bags of pretzels littering the dirty floors. They’re filled with families and businessmen, but to me they have always been a symbol, a reminder of the constant tug of war that accompanies our wanderlust lifestyle.

They often look so graceful, and fly so effortlessly, but I wonder how they stay aloft, when I know they’re so heavy…until I hear them groan as they draw closer to 1,000 feet (right over our roof.) I can both see and hear them propel themselves forward smoothly through the air, yet all at once heave them selves carefully to the ground. The wings longing to stay in the air, weightless, while the bodies and hearts inside ache for the ground.

As I sit here writing this, I've pulled over in a wet parking lot after a light rain that just threatened my very last family portrait session. A low flying plane has churned words in my stomach that have nowhere else to go but out. I find myself stealing away moments, like a puffs of a secret cigarette, to try to explain to myself, away from the chaos, what I'm feeling and to remind myself why. 

I feel most inspired after a session, anywhere, but particularly here, where I redesigned my definition of success. Where I learned it most certainly isn't a number, or an amount...unless the amount relates to happiness. It looks more like a happy family, quality time spent with my family and my friends, not quality time spent in an office....but not without meetings: at the pool, at the playground, over Cheerios and Frappe Nutella Cafes. But still I hear myself groan when I know the time has come again and I've only just gotten comfortable.

We’ve just sold our first car, as Paul mentioned and soon our second….and we take Paul to work again, like we did in our first days here. We’ve begun to lighten our household effects by selling things we’ve outgrown and as our home begins to feel more sparse as we draw nearer to pack-out day, I feel both weightless and very very heavy.

In our final 1,000 feet (60 days today) I feel the ache. 

Listen closely and the groans you'll hear from Casa Hanna are not just from the airplanes above. Our hearts long to be at home with our families, but our lust for this lifestyle, “Our Brazil”, travel, discovery and the work Paul does at the mission and we do in our everyday lives begs to stay here.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


December 22, 2011:

"I pause to look at what’s on top of the bed. The entire queen-sized mattress is covered with things both soft and pink. Every shade of pink imaginable. Tiny pink skirts and pink onesies and pink leggings. There’s even a pink bathing suit. It is a tangible reminder of what—no, who—is coming. And I cannot even imagine what it will be like to have a tiny (“Small, small, small, teeny, weeny, weeny,” as Cranky Crane would teasingly say to Thomas) girl in my arms. Or what it will be like to bounce a tiny girl on top of the water in the swimming pool in her pink bathing suit." -Paul-Daddy

October 13, 2012:

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Dia das Criancas

Friday was Dia das Criancas, "The Day of Kids." Paul had the day off and Sam basically had the week off. He went to school, but they cancelled all homework and all seriousness. They played games, were encouraged to ditch their uniforms and wear costumes or "happy and colorful" clothes, took a special bus ride to one of the Tia's houses for a picnic lunch and came home with a giant bouncy ball, one each for all of the kids, gifts from their teachers on Thursday, the last day of the week.

Friday most of the city shut down and blew up with activities for kids. We headed back to Parque da Cidade where we had spent the day last year. The Secretaria de Estado da Crianca or the Secretary for the State of Children with the Ministry of Health set up hundreds of free tramolines, bounce houses and bounce slides through out the giant park. There were bands playing, theaters, Alvin and the Chipmunks covering Backstreet Boys tunes on a big stage, video games, juggling lession, stilt walking lessons, popcorn, balloons and fun the likes of Disney without all the cash. Everything was free, save for the popcorn which is about the equivalent of a dollar.

Last year we parked near (and consequently discovered) the go-karts, but didn't ride. This year, we knew we had drivers. We parked, wove through the trampolines and headed right for the track. Peter, always our adventurous child, swung immediately through the turnstiles and before I could even grab my camera had a helmet on and was being picked up and set into a tiny Formula 1 car. "But, he is so tiny, so young!" I hear you crying, but we are in Brazil, friends, where there aren't a million silly rules, you don't have to be "this" tall to ride this ride and with the careful assistance of a go-kart employee, even your tiniest boy's wishes can safely come true. Really, though, you only have to be three. Which Pete is....almost. 

As he sped away down the track, I looked at Paul and panicked, "Is he ok? Is he scared?" 

You see Pete leaps before he looks, but we know this.

However as he rounded his first loop of the track, we attempted to catch the attention of his "co-pilot" wanting to make sure, in fact, he was having fun and even perhaps cut his race short. Instead, we spied again, his smiling eyes from behind his plexi visor and he sped away again.

We asked Sam if he was ready to go, if he wanted to. He didn't. Always our timid and careful boy. But, as Pete rounded the track once again Sam might have glimpsed the ecstasy in Pete's eyes, too and he jumped the turn stiles and was in his little silver car before I knew he was gone. One quick thumbs up and off he went.

Clemmie watched squealing as they "zoomed" by.

...and then, reluctantly, after something like five laps and 20 minutes later, Pete pulled up, pulled off his helmet with the help of his co-pilot and was instantly at least two years older with the hair of the future formula one racer that I see in my nightmares. But, the kid was so happy and if they are happy that, my friends is all we can hope for. That and a pair of sharp wire cutters that I can use to cut the ignition on his real race car someday so he will be forced to be sidelined each and every race day.

Then Sam zoomed by and with each lap they raced they wrapped my heart around those tire-lined curves, stretching it to the far reaches of its experience and then they came home, which I hope they always one piece....

Happier than ever.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Lion Man

When Elise asked Sam what he wanted to be for Halloween he replied, "Lion Man!"

This wasn't his initial response. We tried steering him toward Max from "Where the Wild Things Are" so that Pete and Clementine could be 'wild things'. The boys had the initial idea to be Thomas trains, but then who would that make Clementine? Sir Topham Hat?

After seeing the animated movie "Horton Hears a Who", Pete decided he wanted to be the story's hero, Jojo. When Elise asked Pete why he wanted to be Jojo, unprompted, he replied, "Because Jojo saves the day." That was a pretty good reason. And so even though we worry that no one will recognize Jojo, Elise raced out to Taguatinga to buy the supplies needed to make Peter into a pint-size replica of Jojo (oh wait....Jojo already is pint-sized). 

At some point along the way, Sam decided he was going to be Lion Man. I'm not exactly sure who Lion Man is, but evidently, he is Sam's secret alter ego. Lion Man is half-man, half-lion and--get this--breathes fire. Cool, huh?

But neither Elise nor I knew what Lion Man looked like. We asked Sam what Lion Man would wear, but it was hard to get a straight answer out of him with all the roaring and fire-breathing that was taking place. So, Sam and I googled 'Lion Man' to get some ideas. 

This is what we found:

I'm not sure if this is what Sam had in mind, but he seemed pretty impressed. 

This guy looked a little more like a Mupper factory reject:

But the picture Sam felt most represented his vision of Lion Man was this guy:

How Sam is going to pull this off, I'm not quite sure. I don't think there are enough days between now and Halloween for him to hit the gym. Maybe some day. 

Anyway, it should be interesting, so definitely stay tuned. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Water Wings

So, I have long had a prejudice against water wings. I believed that water wings inhibited a child’s ability to learn how to swim. I believed that they were a crutch. I don’t know if I read this somewhere or came up with it on my own, but I have believed this for a long time, maybe since I taught swim lessons myself, 24 years ago.

I also believed they gave parents a false sense of security when their children were in the water. I was—and am—of the opinion that unless you are absolutely 100% certain that your child can swim, then your attention should be 100% trained on your child while they are in the pool, whether they are using a flotation device or not.

Enter, incredibly freezing swimming pool that Dad doesn’t want to get into. Also, enter, for unknown reasons, a softening on my position. I am making a conscious effort not to say not to my boys just for the sake of saying no. It is easy to automatically deny them many of their requests. Maybe because there are so many of them throughout the course of a day. To acquiesce to all of them would require a level of service beyond even the fanciest five star restaurant. That is why today when they asked for jelly beans at 10:00, I gave them to them. I couldn’t think of a good reason not to, and they had just accompanied me on a four mile run in the double-jogger. And when they asked me for Lucky Charms for a snack ten minutes before I was going to put dinner on the table, I said yes to that, too. Maybe because I am a push-over or maybe because I knew they had just come out of the pool and were starving.

So, when Sam asked to wear the water wings today, the confluence of my not wanting to leap into our freezing cold pool (I ended up jumping in anyway, hoping Petey would swim with me, only to be denied) and not finding a really good reason to say no, I helped him slip the water wings on and set him free.

What followed was nothing short of euphoric. Sam was swimming. In his mind, he was free. He splashed up and down the pool acting like a wounded dolphin that had been nursed back to health at Sea World and released back into the wild. “This is so FUN!” he exclaimed more than once. To Sam, he was swimming, and who was I to tell him any differently. He was swimming, for all intents and purposes and in every way that mattered. If swimming is not drowning, then that’s what he was doing. Moreover, he was having fun which is all that really matters anyway.

I am a swimmer and so naturally wanted Sam to be, too, but never pushed him too hard. I knew he would learn some day and knew, too, that he would have to get there on his own, when he was ready. I knew too well that if I pushed too hard, I could achieve exactly what I hoped to avoid, and drive him from the sport. And in Sam’s world, he took a big step today. He had to learn to trust the water wings before he could learn to trust himself. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Our House, 6:00pm: Bath Time

Weekend in Photos

Thursday: Clementine napped while I made baby food, fresh, Brazilian mango to be exact. I peeled and chopped right along to the beat of the water-cooler bongo that  Pete played from atop the counter. 

We picked Sam up from school and Clementine proved her love to him through face grabs. Somewhere I read that a baby shows its love by touching your face...which somehow in the past three babies has morphed into "grabbing your face" which can only be translated into extreme love. So Sam lets it happen, because he takes after his mom and dad, he loves love, little love lover.

Friday: I was taken down, the last of the family, by the flu. We've now had, what I can only describe as both the North American and South American strains of the flu. Expat life at it's finest. Sam had no school Friday and instead of having a fun day at the zoo as planned, I had a fun day in bed thanks to Sheyla. If there is anything worse than having the flu, it has GOT TO BE parenting three lively children with the flu. Yet another reason we are thankful for the help we have now. I recovered in a record two days and no one was neglected in the meantime.

Clementine discovered legos, which means I can stop fretting that I haven't bought her any new baby toys, because to be honest, she hates baby toys. She'd much rather play with these giant legos or matchbox cars or trains.

Pete discovered that he can still melt the hearts of ladies everywhere with this look and a soft rabbit, Sam discovered he can buckle himself into his car seat all by himself...which hell-ya, because now I can spent 45 less minutes wedging my upper torso and head into the innermost depths of the Subaru to buckle in tots and then reverse myself while the other two children cry and scream and Peter pokes my ribs to get me off of him all a little like backing out of a hole of fire ants.

Saturday: We headed to Sam's Brazilian preschool for an "exposição" a special day for families put on by the school, to show off his latest artwork and watch a special show of all the songs he's been learning in English...yes, English.

He and Pete both completed an obstacle course put on by Sam's incredibly hot kind capoeira teacher, Tio Chris. Sam's teacher Tia Chris (not to be confused with Tio Chris and not nearly as hot kind) was sure to tell us how much she loves our boy and that he is the sweetest boy ever. Which is always so awesome to hear, because other people don't have to love your kids, when they do we feel like we are doing something right, or Sam is.  She also recently told Paul that Sam is the translator of the school for the new American kids who haven't quite grasped Portuguese yet and are struggling. He is crossing classroom lines and being the diplomat of good verb conjugations.

After the  exposição we headed to a special celebratory breakfast where Clem braved a Brazilian "cadeirinha" for the first time and lived to tell about it.

The boys shared chocolate croissants, frolicked in the grass out back and discovered this beautiful butterfly.

Later that evening, Paul and I bathed the kids and got ready to head out to a special Indian food feast, where we were promised the best Indian food in Brazil...the only Indian food in Brazil. Later (too late) we learned that even though we are good at Portuguese....we are not that good. We had a little miscommunication with our babysitter and ended up staying home and watching Horton Hears A Who with the kids and eating Lebanese take-out. Which was neither Lebanese nor Brazilian strangely. It consisted of pancakes in leiu of Syrian bread and a Heinz BBQ sauce basted Sfiha. None of which really matters now.

Oh and Clem started to wave. Which is quite possibly the most deliciously adorable thing in the world, "Wave for them Clem!" See she's just that good. If we were a pageant family, she'd be float-worthy.

Sunday: We picnic'ed in the carport, napped and later packed up the family to head to Bendicto Suco in Asa Norte for juices galore and finished the night off with pizza and noodles at a quiet spot up the road while the sounds of Brazilian hippies on guitars wafted through the streets.