Friday, November 30, 2012

Folding Laundry

Yes, folding laundry!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Breaking Up

I have reached an new stage, one that I would guess was fairly normal in the State Department, person-to-country relationship, but is none-the-less, new to me. It's the stage where we have to slowly break it off, "It's just easier this way," "It's not you, it's me," "We're just too different." Where we stop seeing each other, where I begin to look at other countries again and suddenly, where I once only saw perfection, I only see flaws.

Brazil and I, we started off our relationship fast. I wasn't ready to get serious, but I had no choice, we moved in together. I still really had my heart set on another country, though. I felt like I was living a lie. I still loved the USA.

Our relationship was intense in nature, but my heart just wasn't in it.

Then something changed and I forgot about the US, "Oh ya, that guy, he doesn't serenade me with parrot songs outside my bedroom window or give me fresh mangos or fresh breaths of eucalyptus on my morning runs!" Brazil gave me a baby for crying out loud! We started to walk the same and talk the same. We ate the same foods and began to like the same music. He gave me mix tapes.

In the past few weeks, I feel like Brazil is trying to break it off with me.  He is placing huge and never before seen insect and insect eggs in my home, he is making my always painful, but recently tolerable trips to the grocery store, impossible and he has allowed his people once again to laugh at me when I misspeak in Portuguese. Something that hasn't happened since our first hot and heavy months together.

Truth be told, I've begun to think about the USA again. His pot-hole-less roads, his virtually insect free homes, his anal retentive love for orderly lines and shopping cart returns, his voice, a voice I understand completely.

I don't want it to be true, I want to love them both, but love is pain and I'm in a place where I have no say in where I stay, so yes, maybe it's easier this way.

Please forgive me USA, can you still love me and quasi-Brazilian love-child? I'm coming home to you...but I have the scent of mango in my linens and I'll never be able to give you that little piece of my heart that I'll leave in Brazil.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Giving Thanks (in Brazil)

The past few Sunday morning, I’ve taken Pete and Sam for a run through Lago Sul. Traffic is light on Sunday mornings, and we are passed by several very large cycling pelotons whizzing their way through the neighborhood on their Sunday ride which makes me miss my bike and my own cycling days. We usually go five miles, stopping on both the way out and on the way back at the gas station in QI 23 because it has train parked beside it. We stop, and Pete and Sam unbuckle themselves from the jogging stroller and get out to examine the engine which we look at on the way out. There is also a gutted passenger car (Annie and Clarabelle, they call it, from Thomas and Friends) that we stop at on the way back. I do push-ups while they play. On the way back, we stop at one of the several sets of pull-up bars scattered throughout Lago Sul, and I do pull-ups. I don’t run very fast, but it is still a hard work-out. It is now almost summer in Brazil, and the weather’s turned humid. I’m drenched from head to toe in sweat, with beads of sweat trickling down my brow and from my ear lobes.

This morning, it was just Pete and I, and I helped him through his own sets of pull-ups. There was a stack of rocks under one of the pull-up bars, and he tipped the rocks over, revealing an ants’ nest.  I am thankful that I am starting to feel like myself again. Since the beginning of April, when I returned to work after Clementine’s birth, until recently, I worked in the environment and science section of my office, including spending two and a half weeks in Rio in June as part of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20. I didn’t appreciate how hard the job was and how much stress I was putting on myself, until I went back to the political section and immediately felt like a weight had been lifted. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the job I was doing. I learned something new every day. Climate change, the science behind launching shoe box-sized satellites, urban sustainability and turtle excluder devices.

Last night, Elise and I went to buy a few bottles of cachaça to stuff stockings with back in the States, before grabbing a bite out. We ordered two caipirinhas and sat beside each other, looking out the front door of the cachaçeria across the street at a hair salon and a Chinese restaurant. Twilight was falling, and I was thankful Elise has bought a new pair of green woven shorts and also that she was wearing them as a clear demonstration of her objectively amazing legs. I was thankful that we didn’t have anywhere else we needed to be at that particular moment and that we could stay as long as we wanted, within reason.  Later we would go to Coco Bambu for dinner. It is a pretty fantastic feeling to go to a packed restaurant in Brazil and have every man in the room checking out your wife. I am thankful that she writes me notes to remind me of the things I would otherwise forget. I am thankful that we will have two months off together before we move back to Washington DC and I am looking forward to going back. I love it there. I love living there. I like that it is close to Baltimore which reminds me of the time I first set off on my own, and Washington DC is familiar enough to not be scaring, but foreign enough to still (ironic, I know) feel like Elise and I are off on our own just being there.

I am thankful for Brazil. I will be sad to leave. I know I will miss it, and we remind ourselves that, now, we are all (especially Clementine) a little Brazilian. I hope we will return. I think we will. And if we do, I hope that we, the kids especially, will pick right up where we left off. I think of the pictures Elise took in June in Rio of Pete and Sam in front of Dois Irmãos on Ipanema beach and I have visions of them as long-legged, poofy-haired, razor-thin fourteen and sixteen year-olds clamoring out of our apartment in Rio, sprinting down toward the beach, a soccer ball comfortably tucked under the crook of their elbows, fluently chattering in Portuguese to the beach vendors and joggers and Brazilian girls in bikinis they pass. Though leaving Brazil is bittersweet, I am thankful for this lifestyle. I hope it continues to be this good to us. I think it will, as it is all a matter of perspective, and Elise and I are not difficult to please. I know it will not disappoint and I know that we will feel the same when we have to leave India, and then we will tell ourselves that we are all now, a little bit American, a little bit Brazilian and a little bit Indian. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving (in Brazil)

Finding ourselves near the end of our time in Brazil, it was a little hard to get into the Thanksgiving spirit this year. Not the giving thanks part. That part is easy, and we do it every day. What I mean to say is that it was hard to get motivated to prep and cook a turkey…wait, I should back track…it was hard to get motivated to find a turkey. That would have taken us on a wild goose…sorry, wild turkey chase…through countless Carrefours, no doubt, and we probably would have ended up with water fowl or a capybara, anyway. Later in the day, Elise told me turkeys were going for the equivalent of $100. No thanks. No, the thought of preparing all that stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole for two boys who take thirty seconds to eat dinner just didn’t hold much appeal for two reasons.

Since we are reaching the end of our time in Brazil, we find ourselves much more wanting to relish every last savory morsel of Brazil and we find ourselves without good friends who we had shared prior momentous meals with; They had already returned to the States before us.

Last year, we were in the States for Thanksgiving and I got to run in the Race for the Pies Thanksgiving Day morning. I’ve long needed to find justification for self-inducing a tryptophan coma, whether that be a long solo ride in the aerobars up Jupiter Island or a local 5k. This year, I thought it a great idea to get a group together to organize what would be the inaugural Brasilia Turkey Trot 5k.

Clementine had other ideas for the morning and decided she needed to take a nap just as we were walking out the door (plus, having already sold the Subaru, we couldn’t fit both jogging strollers in the car we were renting from work). So, I took Sam and Pete down to QL 12 for the Turkey Trot.

The “race” got underway and we blasted out in front, despite the fact that I was pushing a double-wide. One of my colleagues from work was hot on our heels for one mile, which we crossed in a respectable 6:53, but pulled up lame shortly thereafter, complaining of a tight calf. Honestly, I think everyone else turned around, and Sam, Pete and I sailed across the finish line in 1st, 2nd and 3rd places respectively.

After the adult race, the kids lined up behind a tiny orange plastic traffic cone for a loop around the park. Sam and Pete were by far the youngest entrants, but they weren’t about to let their size diminish their enthusiasm. The race began and the older kids burst to the front. Pete took off after them, doing his best impression of the Flash or Cheetah Man, but after ten yards and a feeble, forlorn “Waaaaait!” he stopped, tilted his head toward the sky and started crying. It was at the same time the cutest and saddest thing I had ever seen.

I quickly jogged up next to him. Through sobs he told me everyone had left him behind. I took his hand and told him we could catch them, but he wasn’t interested. He was done. We watched Sam. He was chuffing along, tiny arms pumping, poofy hair bobbing as he made his way along the back stretch, at this point now, himself, very far behind the older kids. But he kept going. In the car on the way to the park, both he and Pete had told me they loved running.

I put Pete down and, hand-in-hand, we ran to meet Sam as he came into the home stretch, cheering him on. As Sam approached, he, too, had tears in his eyes. He stopped and fell into my arms, exhausted. “I didn’t win!” he wailed. “Boobaluh,” I told him, “you did awesome!”  

I’m not exactly sure where he got the idea that he needed to win. Not from his father, of course. Regardless, both boys learned a hard lesson that day: It doesn’t matter what place you come in as long as you participate.

Afterwards, we picked up the girls, Elise and Clementine, to run to the store and pick up some eggs and butter for pumpkin pie. Elise was dead set on making a pumpkin pie, fearing that I would disown her or something if she didn’t make at least one thing seasonal on Thanksgiving, though we had already decided to have a non-traditional meal.

We dressed the boys in polos and took them to Porcao for Thanksgiving dinner in Brazil. Pete was impressed as we were shown to our table. “Wow! This place fancy!” he exclaimed and he ordered his own bebida in perfect Portuguese, “Suco de laranja, por favor.”  I showed them their card and explained to them the difference between the green side which read “Sim! Bring me more meat!” and the red side which read “Não! I couldn’t possibly eat another bite! I feel like I’m gonna throw up! (in best Monty Python accent)” The boys ordered rice, batatas fritas and pasteis. And the garçons began circling with giant spits of meat in one hand and machetes in the other. Pete immediately aceitou sausage. Next came the chicken hearts. Yes, chicken hearts! Mind you it was very clear that only Pete and Sam were eating at this point, so in Brazil, it is entirely reasonable, I presume, for children to eat chicken hearts. I did not know this.

By the end of the meal, both boys had perfectly mastered the use of their tiny tongs to pluck the freshly-carved picanha or fraldinha. The waiter would slice of a hunk of meat, the slice would curl away from the meat, and Sam or Pete’s tiny tongs were there waiting to ferry the meat quickly to their plates.

For dessert, there was banana flambé, but unlike previous visits, they didn’t torch the bananas tableside, which is probably just as well given Petey’s ardent dislike of birthday candles. I would have hated for a full-on banana conflagration to ruin such a perfect Brazilian Thanksgiving. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


For the past two years Sam has been learning Capoeira at his preschool. Brazilian martial arts disguised as dance that was created by African slaves in the 16th century. (For more on Capoeira go here) Each sexta-feira (Friday) his instructor, Mestre Chris, "Tio Chris" or "Uncle Chris" to the kids, comes to teach the kids, who all gather around to stretch and practice their "moves" within tiny, brightly painted circles in the floor.  Until last week, we had only managed to beg Sam to show us his stuff, but had never actually seen him do it live, just a crab walk here and there. 

Then last week Tio Chris was having a Batizado or baptism for the students. The parents were not invited, but I invited myself and was welcomed by the teachers with a ring-side seat. With only a few months left here in Brazil, I wanted to be sure I went and saw him in his Groupo.

He was insanely embarrassed as you can see in the image below. He covered his eyes and acted like a goof ball as I snapped away photos of what is typically a pretty non-spectator practice at school. 

Sam along with the rest of his class, was earning a new cord (Think belt, Daniel-Son.) Until now he didn't have one at all. He earned the corda crua com ponta amarla or "Raw Cord with yellow tips" for reaching Aprendiz or apprentice. This cord signifies that rather than being seen as inexperienced, he is seen as being full of potential for growth. 

*On a side note if I haven't mentioned it recently: God I love this place!? Brazil is raw and full of potential for growth and with that state of mind, it and its people are beautiful. Just freaking beautiful.

Now back to the ceremony. Sam's class on the far left in this photo, just five kids, are watched and cheered on by the other younger classes. 

The table piled with cords, goodie bags and custom water bottles from Mestre Chris.  Laid in front is the Berimbau, the single string, percussion instrument that they play and then there is a little chant, that I couldn't get enough of if I tried...especially not with the voices of all these little kids.

A horrible, but fun video for those of you with the patience of a grandmother or mother to watch Sam show off his moves. I was absolutely moved at the discipline my silly little Sam displayed. He was all business as you can see. After the initial warm-up the students went man-to-man, but the afore-mentioned silly boy upon returning to his assigned circle after receiving his cord, did a little mule kick  and his wee little arms collapsed on him. Chin meet floor. I was glad I was there. I was able to sneak him out early to the embassy med unit where they patched him up, thankfully without stitches.

Just last night I found and communicated with a capoeira groupo in Northern Virginia and will be enrolling Sam to continue his study when we land in February.

We will always have Brazil.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

"Robert Novak!"

For no particular reason (except to be silly, which is reason enough), this little guy is named Robert Novak. Why? Well, because he has a mustache and is a paramedic. 

Though Sam is holding him in the photo above, her is one of Clementine's favorite bath toys. She likes to throw him out of the small baby, plastic bath and wait for Robert Novak to play peek-a-boo over the edge. For some reason, he has taken to shouting, "My name is Robert Novak!"

Clementine is not the only fan of Robert Novak, and he plays in the bath with the big boys, too, and they banter back and forth, "I want to play with Robert Novak!" "No, I want to play with Robert Novak!"

So, if nothing else, now everyone knows Robert Novak's name. Typical family bath time silliness now has a name...and that name is Robert Novak.

We love you and are always thinking of you (at bath time) Robert Novak! 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Clementine: Seven Months

...just in time for tomorrow, when she turns eight months. Go me.

Our little Lu Lu. She claps, she eats Cheerios and Pao de Queijo (to keep things multicultural). She eats anything really. She grabbed my plate at dinner the other night pulled it right out from in front of me, mid-bite and ate ALL of my rice. There was no stopping her and who am I to get in the way of another woman and her food. She says "ma ma," "da da" and something that sounds like "mo" when she wants more, of course she also signs "more" because, hello, trilingual.  She pulls her little, tiny, baby self up to stand in her crib and drags herself on her tummy around the house faster than I walk. She throws things along in front of her squealing all the way and will make it from one end of the house to the other Swiffering the granite floors as she delivers odd Easter eggs and toys to and fro. She.climbs.stairs. It is unreal, of course all babies do this eventually, Pete did it at eight months, but isn't this one supposed to stay my baby forever? She is still 150% in love with Sam and he with her and she and Peter are working things out. Pete has started calling her "My baby girl" and kissing her instead of whacking her in the head much more often. She is still the sparkle to my every day.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Marine Ball 2012

We attended our first Marine Ball Friday night at the Clube Naval in Brasilia. Last year I was way too pregnant...or we might have even been out of the country for the excitement.

This year we made it a point to ditch our daily duds and procure some new threads for our big Marine Ball debut. For the first time in almost seven years, since our wedding day, Paul donned a tux and I a gown. We left the kids with our maid for the evening and held hands like prom-goers throughout the night.

Here's the proof:

We drank and ate and even talked about dancing for a few minutes, until the intimidating Samba music ended and the Macarena came on and we had to leave....killer dancing skills reserved for yet another event. 

Paul in Balencinada (aka rented Brazilian tuxedo or "Smoking,"  which is awesome and I don't ever want to call it a tuxedo again.)

Elise in Badgley Mischka. 

Clem in Kit and Lil.

Pete and their underwear. Thank God our maids fourteen year old daughter is such a terrible (or great!) photographer or you'd be seeing all Thomas the Train briefs, all the way.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Book of Morgan

This is not the end of the story, just the end of the first chapter....and these stories must be told....

Chapter One

Today my best friend leaves Brazil, she and her family head back to the States after their two year tour here in Brasilia. We will really only be separated for a few months during home leave and will all reunite again in DC for our time in language. Goodbyes delayed, until we leave for India, sort of. It is said in this lifestyle that we never say "goodbye," only "see you soon," because eventually we all meet up again. I know its true, but I also know it'll never be the same. Sure, it might be better, I know that it will, I trust that will, because that is one of the most grand things I've learned in my life, but with that I've also learned it will without a doubt, never be the same. So while I'm not mourning the loss of my friend, I'm mourning the loss of the sameness today, that I've come to cherish here in Brasilia.

I suck a lot of times always at telling people how I feel about them, but I know Morgan reads this blog and I want everyone else who does, to know that you should trust your path in life, because there are people laid out upon it for you, they show up in the rough patches to hold your hand until the path smooths back out again. They make the unfamiliar seem like home and the things that seems insurmountable, mountable....birthing bathtubs...ahem.

I think the first thing I look for in a new place is a routine, especially for my kids. I set my focus on just that when we arrived, I never really thought about friends, they would come along as bonuses, but I'd be just fine without them...I thought, and maybe I would have, but I'd have never loved this place the way I do without Morgan.

It started out simply, Paul passed Morgan in the halls of FSI, he said there was a spouse in language with him that he thought I'd like, who'd also be posted in Brasilia. If I must admit when he told me she wore her backpack on the front, I wondered, how could we ever be friends. We never really met in DC except a quick wave as she passed us pushing strollers at mile one of a 5k race in Virginia (which now I know was her attempt to beat me) and over the tailwinds of her whizzing stroller we promised we needed to really meet up sometime.

Life in DC was crazy and it never happened.

When she showed up on my doorstep in Brazil, a blind play-date, arranged via email, having run three miles in a strange new country, she had a stroller full of little, blond, Phin, kid sized yogurts and bananas for us in our carless, hungry and culture-shocked state. I wasn't sure how we couldn't be friends. In fact she never showed up to my house again empty handed, including today.

I was horrified to be meeting anyone new in my workout clothes, in a house filled with State Department Drexel Heritage furniture where nothing said "Elise." Then I began to let go. By the end of our play date we'd shared birth stories, family secrets and Lord, who only knows, I may have even cried. Which sounds crazy, until you move to a foreign country, alone with children, then it is quite a common-place, first-date friendship activity.

In many ways we couldn't be more different, but she could wear her backpack on her front all day and I wouldn't care. She laughs at me for refusing to leave the house without nail polish on and I may or may not have witnessed her first manicure ever at a "nail party" I hosted at my casa. She reminds me of the more carefree side of myself, the one I'd like to see more and do, because of her example.

Together we've run miles, races and sprints. We've texted more than my TIM bill cares to admit and I've called her at odd hours to rescue us in tooth breaking emergencies, when our car or computer has broken down when I've left my iphone a top my car at 38 weeks pregnant and sent Paul out for ice-cream in a rainstorm. She's been the OnStar to my tour. The extended family that our Foreign Service life doesn't allow for.

We've shared midwives, doulas, bath-tub birth stories, a million trips to the "sand park" and "sand slides," awkward side-hug stories with embarrassment that lasts for days, bellowing laughter, parenting advice, parenting baguncas, great meals, bad....really bad...experimental dinners (mine), vacations and tears.

Oh and our kids. What once was three, multiplied to five in just two years. I love her kids like they were my own, and I certainly know mine love her like she was theirs. They even call her mom accidentally, yet frequently, which proves we have more in common than not. Kids always see people honestly without the blur we accumulate throughout our years.

I waited up all night, on-call, to pick up Phin on the night that Simon was born and held him in his first hours when he arrived.

Morgan is only the first person I told we were considering baby number three, the second person I told when we knew "it" was real, after she helped me buy delicious frozen yogurt and crappy Brazilian pregnancy tests and only the third person I'd ever dream of having witness Clem's birth. Unfortunately the stars didn't align and she held my hand and cheered me on via Google Voice from Utah. She was only the fourth person to see baby Clementine when she arrived after Paul, our midwife and doula.

We went out to celebrate one of our last nights in Brazil with the Loosli family and I asked Paul to take a few photos of Morgan and I...when you are the photographers it's hard to get in the picture. Even though none of these are "absolutely perfect" by my Type A personality standards, they express perfectly our friendship, the chaos of swirling kids, laughter, unfinished sentences and finally today more tears.

Over our last Frappe Cafe Nutella blended coffee drinks at our favorite coffee spot, Earnesto, and through the same front gate through which she strolled in QL18 when we originally met, we said goodbye and even though she is as American as some say is, "Apple Pie," Brazil already doesn't feel quite like Brazil without her. 

Boa Viagem my friend. Até mais tarde. Thank YOU.  I love you dearly.