Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Making memories...

It just doesn't feel like "the holidays" around here. Not the holiday time that I am used to, anyway. I sit here, in my air conditioned house (worth every penny for that little gem!), listening to Christmas music to try to get in the mood. But, there is something strange about craving a popsicle instead of cocoa, wearing shorts instead of a sweater, and looking out the window to see lush, tropical flowers instead of a dormant yard- with or without snow. And while it has taken a little adjusting, we are looking forward to experiencing a whole new holiday season.

We began by spending Thanksgiving week on a trip up north. Where I come from, "up north" would likely mean colder temperatures, but this particular "northern" clime is situated near the equator, in Recife, Brazil. I have never felt such intense heat in my life! We bathed in sun screen, but each ended up with sunburns in various locations on our bodies. The little girls both had burns on the soft skin surrounding their eyes, and Tessa even burned the whites of her eyeballs! (She also came home with pneumonia, but that's another story...)

Can you see Tessa's sunburned eyes?!
A little too late for shades
Despite the discomfort, we had a good time (some more than others). Recife is a beautiful coastal city; rich in tradition and history. I could have explored the streets and markets for days--such sights, sounds, and smells I had never before seen! There were crowds of people--many with the most strikingly beautiful green eyes (apparently due to their Dutch heritage)--many hawking their wares; various caged animals (presumably for consumption), fruits and vegetables I can't even name, food vendors selling all sorts of snacks cooked to order on little hibachi style grills. Well maintained old buildings with stunning architectural detail meshed seamlessly with impressive modern edifices. Most of the streets were paved, but a few remained with the original cobblestone. It was a fascinating city!

Mercado São Jose
Sampling of the cool architecture
We spent Thanksgiving Day on the beach in Porto de Galinhas (Port of the Chickens) located about an hour outside of Recife. The town got it's name (or so I'm told) from it's history of slave trading. Back in the 1800s, after slave trading was abolished, plantation owners were still importing slaves, but they used the codeword, "chickens", to pass the word that a new shipment had arrived. Now, the town is FILLED with chickens--chicken statues, chicken art, even chicken shaped telephone booths. I wish I would have taken more pictures, and perhaps bought a few chicken souvenirs, but sadly, Tessa was quite ill by the time we headed to the shops. I think the second day in a row of oppressive heat and  point blank sun exposure was the thing that did her in. She was having a great time on the beach all morning; building sand castles and boogie boarding in the waves, but after a delicious lunch of fresh fish and french fries, the fever struck and she was down for the count.

On our way to Porto de Galinhas
Boogie board!!
While in Porto de Galinhas, we were able to take a short boat ride out to some natural "pools", created by reefs not far off the shore. We got in the clear water, and immediately, beautiful tropical fish swarmed our legs. It was a little disconcerting at first, but very cool! We got a bottle full of fish food and we were each able to feed the fish. It was fascinating to watch them. I can still hear the sucking/slapping sound that their little bodies made as they all tried to jump over each other and out of the water, vying for tiny pellets. One even latched onto my finger--what a strong suction cup of a mouth!

Dad and Keira swimming with the fishes
We were very pleased to spend some time during the week with some new friends, Silvio and Andrea, and their son, Vicinius. Silvio served in the same mission as Tom, although they were never companions. They treated us like family, taking us around the city, to Porto de Galinhas, to church on Sunday, and feeding us a lovely meal on Sunday afternoon at their home. More than once, we (all 9 of us) crowded into their two door hatch back for a ride through the city. (I had to suspend my strict seat-belt rule on these trips--I've had to suspend it several times since arriving here in Brazil. Maybe the relaxed, layed-back Brazilian attitude is rubbing off on me? I could think of worse things to happen...)
New friends

Over-stuffed car. All that was missing were the clown costumes!
Chicken twin!
On the third day, we decided our pale bodies couldn't handle the sun anymore, and we opted instead, to spend the day in the huge new mall, Rio Mar. It was a gorgeous, modern building, all decorated for Christmas. We walked through Latin America's largest indoor Christmas tree, interacting with elves in a magical cave within the tree, coming out the other side to meet none other than Papai Noel. Tessa was the only one game to sit on his lap. I was a little worried when he began speaking to her and she looked back at me, confused. I went up and told Santa (in Portuguese, thank you very much) that Tessa did not speak Portuguese. He asked what language she did speak, and when I told him English, he began to speak to her in English! But, of course! Santa knows the languages of all the little children of the world!

 Papai Noel!
In this mall, there was a fun-park type place with arcade games, bumper cars, and even a bowling alley. We bowled a round. This is when it became evident how sick Tessa really was. She bowled one frame, and then just wanted to sit and snuggle with me the rest of the time. Poor girl. At this point, I still thought she was only suffering from heat stroke. We continued to drag her around the rest of the week, returning to the mall for bumper cars and arcade games. (She actually perked up a little for these.) We never made it back to the beach...and everyone was okay with that. Overall, I think it was a fun trip--and what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, right?

Tom was the big winner of the night--winning a whopping 1,000 tickets with one spin of the wheel! We are so proud!!

Recife is a three hour plane ride from Sao Paulo, and Sao Paulo is about a three hour drive from Sao Carlos, so it was a long trip there and back. We had to leave our hotel at 5:30am to catch our flight. We were not able to recharge any of the kids game systems, as the entire city of Recife is wired for 220 Volt outlets (we required 110 V, which our house in Sao Carlos has). Despite the lack of anything to do, and the lack of sleep, everyone did amazingly well on our return flight. But, no FAMILY VACATION can go smoothly (just watch the movie), and when we finally made it to our car, after waiting for a bus at the airport for half an eternity! we found the van battery to be dead. Now this is a brand new battery, purchased the week before we left for the trip. There were no lights left on or doors left open. We think it had something to do with the van's crazy alarm system  (again--another story). We had to wait until the bus driver returned to give us a jump. Then, we weren't able to get the car in neutral to push it out, and the van cables couldn't reach from the bus to the front of our van. Finally, the bus driver drove around to a restricted area on the other side of the fence that we were parked against, and carefully threaded the cables up and over the chain link fence (and under the barbed wire) to jump start our van and get our poor, weary family on our way for the long drive back to Sao Carlos. As my nephew, Aaron would say, "Making memories..."

Making memories

More memories
 Neat art gallery/shop filled with pieces by local artisans.
 This was one of Jaden's favorites.

We were grateful to be back home (even if it is only a temporary home), and within the next few days, decorated for Christmas and received a letter from Santa with our special Christmas gift this year--tickets for a four night Christmas cruise! Santa wisely realized that we would not be able to bring a lot of presents home with us when we return in August, and so he is giving us a much better gift--the gift of family together time...the gift of new experiences...the gift of memories. Stay tuned....

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Welcome to my Casa!!

It's kind of long (17 minutes), but if you are curious about where I live--here is a tour of my home:

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Lost in Translation--Literally

Does it seem like all of my posts are centered around the same theme? Well, my life, right now, seems to be centered around that theme, so what else do I have to write about?! When you learn a new language, (which I hope I will, someday) you have to be careful about some of the subtleties of the language. Here are just a few things that I have learned to be careful about (the hard way):

1. Besides having masculine and feminine nouns with agreeing adjectives (this makes my head hurt, just thinking about it), there is the tricky business of conjugation. In Portuguese, verbs are all conjugated depending on past, present, and future tense (I know that we have this in English, too, but I swear it is ten times easier!) In addition, verbs are conjugated depending on the subject of the sentence. Pronouns (I, me, you, they, etc...) are optional in speaking. You can just drop the pronoun in any given sentence, because the conjugation of the verb tells of whom you are speaking. (For example: I am tired. You are tired. He is tired. In essence, you just have to say, "Tired" and everyone will know whom you are talking about depending on how you say the word "tired".) The other day, I was doing the dishes. (I was putting them in the dishwasher.) I feel a little embarrassed about having this luxury item, and have the compulsive need to comment about the indolence of Americans to everyone who sees it. My housekeeper saw me loading the dishes, so I did my typical self-deprecation act to ease the awkwardness.  I'm pretty sure I told my housekeeper that SHE was lazy.

2. The Portuguese words for "coconut" and "poo-poo" (I'm sorry to all you sensitive readers out there) are pretty much the same--the only difference being on which syllable you place the emphasis. I will not be ordering coconut while I am here.

3. The common word for shoes, (and the only word that I learned in my studies) is "sapatos", but another word for shoes is, "calcados". All of the shoe stores here are labeled "calcados", which to me, at first, sounded a lot like the word for pants: "calcas". I kept getting confused when I would see the signs for "calcados" and expect to see pants, but only found racks and racks of "sapatos" (shoes). The word for barefoot is "descalco" (without shoes)....calco, you see how similar these are?!  So, if I ever walk down the beach barefoot, and decide to stop and enjoy a coconut, I won't be telling anyone about it...just to be on the safe side.

4. I found out in my Portuguese class (too late) that the word I had been using to describe heavy traffic in the city was actually the word for drug trafficking. I feel slightly comforted by the fact that Marly knows my opinion on drugs: Trafico = bad

5. I kept telling people for the longest time that I was from "Estamos Unidos" ("We are united"), instead of "Estados Unidos" (United States). They were in the midst of a political campaign when we first arrived, so maybe they thought I was just politically active??? Probably not...

6. And finally, the subtleties in communication in a foreign land do not stop with oral language; one must beware of insulting gestures as well! We have been here for over two months now, and Tom finally decided to inform me that the "OK" sign (that I use all the time!) is equivalent to the middle finger in the U.S. I'm glad he told me this AFTER I had flipped off several neighbors...and possibly the gun-toting security guards at our complex.

Isn't learning a new language fun?  The first sentence I learned to say in Portuguese is, "I don't speak Portuguese". Tom said I wouldn't need to state the obvious. But, I find that I use that sentence as a sort of apology for all of the countless language faux pas that I commit each day as I struggle to communicate. I shudder to think of what I may or may not have said to people, but, in my current situation, ignorance truly is bliss...right?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

On the Importance of Language

I have always loved language. I love the way that words sound; the way that a bold black font pops off of a crisp white page. I love the way that a well constructed sentence can evoke powerful emotions in a reader, how a cleverly quipped phrase can make the brain work overtime, scrambling to decipher the speaker's true meaning. I even love the way that letters are put together to form a perfectly spelled word (ahhh...satisfaction!) And while I have never been a strong speaker (this is a source of intense frustration for me), I dabble in writing and I adore reading (everything from classic literature, to simple road signs, to labels on shampoo bottles). I even visualize words in my head as I speak them (does anyone else do this, or should I see a therapist?)

And so, you can imagine my irritation at present; being immersed in a foreign language, not being able to communicate even my most basic needs, at times. I continue to study Portuguese with the use of the Rosetta Stone on my computer, and Marissa and I are going to a Portuguese class at the University twice a week. We even had a private tutor come to our house. This private tutor stressed the importance of not trying to formulate grammatically correct sentences, but urged us to "just speak", using the words that we already know. "People will understand you", she said. And so, I finally let go of my need to speak perfectly, and began to "just speak". Let me share with you some of the results:

My friend, Marly, invited me to go shopping with her. I readily accepted the invitation, armed with my new-found linguistic confidence. It was wonderful! We spoke to each other during the entire outing. I knew that I wasn't forming accurate sentences, but she understood me! And I understood her!! (more or less) By the time we arrived at the grocery store,  I was looking for opportunities to converse--about anything--not just merely trying to survive the inevitable Q & A of a friendly neighbor. I saw a flyer that said, "Hawaii" in bold letters. I pointed to it and told her I like Hawaii--that I had been there--that it is beautiful. She paused in front of the stack of flyers and said something that I didn't understand. After several seconds of unsuccessfully trying to make me understand, we decided to just move on with our shopping. I didn't think anything more about it.

After  shopping, Marly took me to meet her father and sister. On the way, she asked me if I like to dance. It seemed like a random question, but, after all, we were practicing our new communication skills out on one another.  I told her I like to dance, but I am not a good dancer, and that I like to dance when nobody is looking. She laughed and said she felt the same way. (I think) A few days later, Marly showed up at my door and  invited Tom and I to an event that I understood to be a dinner/dance. I thought this was strange, since I had told her I didn't like to dance in public. But I was happy that she had invited us to go out. It sounded like fun. She told me the date and said that she needed to reserve a table if we wanted to go. I told her I would talk with Tom. That night, Tom called her. Marly explained that we had gone to the store together, and I had pointed to a flyer advertising a Hawaiian dance event at a local club, and said, rather enthusiastically, "I like this!" So, naturally, she checked into it, and was now making arrangements for me to have my fondest wish. (Tom wants me to tell Marly that I really like golfing at fancy country clubs-- with my husband-- and see what comes of it.)

While driving to the store with Marly on that same trip, we passed by the hospital, and this is when I learned that she had been very sick all week. She had an appointment to go into the hospital that evening to get some IV fluids. She still wasn't fully recovered, but, here she was, taking me to the store. She apologized profusely that she had not been over to check on me during the week (she had sent lunch over one day, via her maid, and a bag of  ice cream, via her son). She felt genuinely bad that she hadn't gotten out of her sick-bed to take care of ME. I hadn't once been over to check on her (and in my defence, I didn't go over, because every time I do, she invites me in and feeds me, or offers to take me somewhere. I feel like the needy neighbor. I wanted to give her a break.) Now, I felt like a schmuck.

I went to check on her the next day. She was home from the hospital, but still not feeling well. I told her I wanted to bring her lunch the next day. She said she would have to check with her husband.  And then... she invited us in to have pizza. (Palm to forehead!) As she explained, mothers don't have time to be sick. Apparently, neighbors of pathetic Americans don't either. She invited another couple from across the street, as well, turning it into an impromptu neighborhood party. She ordered pizza, and of course, we were not allowed to help pay for it. The other neighbors said she and Marcio do this kind of stuff all the time. I left that night, forgetting to confirm the arrangements for lunch the following day. I decided I would just make something and bring it over early. (Lunch is the big meal of the day.)

Late that night, as I was laying in bed, going over the events of the day, I thought about what I had said to Marly. I realized that I had told her I would like to make her lunch, not bring her lunch, implying that I had invited her and her family over to my house to eat! There were a couple of problems with this scenario: 1. I didn't have enough ingredients to make what I had planned for both of our families. 2. It was General Conference weekend, and the first session would start right around lunchtime. (General Conference is a biannual meeting for LDS church members with discourses given by the general authorities of our church. It is a big deal, and we don't like to miss it. [And, by the way, we were able to get the broadcast live from Salt Lake City, via the Internet, and watch all of the four 2-hour sessions over two days--without any glitches! It was nothing short of a miracle, and a tender mercy for me!]) Anyway, Tom had to go down and disinvite our guests for lunch. (He is always cleaning up my messes!)

Last week, I invited my new friend from church, along with her daughter, to lunch. (Yes, I actually invited them to come over to my house to eat lunch with me. Or, so I thought.) I spent the morning cooking a special meal (with dessert), setting the table just so, and making sure that everything was in order. When I went to pick up my guests (they don't have a car), I found the daughter out on the curb waiting for me. I asked her where her mother was. She told me she was downtown with her dad to see the doctor. I asked her if everything was okay. She didn't know. I asked her if her mom was going to come over to my house after seeing the doctor. She didn't know. Finally, I took her back to my house, and used Google Translate to ask her the same questions. I got the same responses. I thought it was strange that my friend hadn't let me know that she would not be coming. I was worried that something was wrong. I asked the daughter if she could call her mother and ask her my questions. And so, through the complicated process of using the computer to type out questions in English, translating them into Portuguese, which the daughter then read over the phone to the mother, who, in turn, answered the daughter, who then typed out the responses, which I then translated... (confused yet?), we finally arrived at the conclusion that I would drive into the center and pick up my friend for lunch.

When we found her, her arms were full of purchases, giving me the impression that she had never planned on coming to lunch at all. I couldn't get her to get into the car. She kept telling me that she had to wait there--(Hadn't we just agreed that I would come and pick her up for lunch?!)-- I finally figured out (actually, I resorted to calling Tom to translate, after several failed attempts to communicate) that she was waiting for her husband to pick up some items from the pharmacy up the street. After a bit of waiting, we decided to drive to the pharmacy to meet with the husband. We pulled up to the pharmacy, just as he was finishing up his business. I discovered that he was going to take a taxi back home. I invited him to join us for lunch, and he accepted. (I hoped that my chicken and rice wasn't dried out or scorched to the bottom of the pan by now.) And so, a lunch date with my friend, turned into a lunch date with her daughter, turned into a lunch date with the whole family... My head is still spinning with that one!

I mentioned Google Translate in the last example. I revert to this method of translation quite often. While this is a helpful tool, it does not always give a completely accurate translation, judging from some of the English translations I have read. One time, I used it to send a Facebook message to the newly called counselor in the Young Women organization. I told her, among other things, that I was "excited" to work with her. Tom looked over the message later and informed me that I had told her I was "nervous" to work with her. Hopefully, she didn't take it personally.

I have decided that I will not let these, or the countless other mishaps with language I have had since arriving here, stop me from trying. (Okay, I HAVE given up a FEW times, throwing myself on the bed like a moody teenager, but I am now recommitting to "just keep speaking".) People will understand me...more or less...right? 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The "Norm"

I have had a few people ask me when I am going to write another post. The reasons I haven't written for a while are two-fold:

1. I realized that all I am doing is whining about how everything is so different here. Nobody likes a whiner.

2. It now seems like everything is not so different anymore, so I don't have anything to whine/write about!

Okay, so things are still very different here, but I find that I am getting used to my new "normal". It's kind of like getting desensitized; I hardly remember what is "supposed" to be normal anymore. And then a few things pop up that remind me that I am living far away from any normal I have ever known. Let me give you a few examples:

Last week, I drove by some roadkill. The sight of roadkill, although gruesome, is very normal for those of us from a "rural" area like Cache Valley. However, in this case, the unfortunate creature was something I have never seen in Cache Valley (or anywhere in the United States, for that matter) before. It was a giant Gila monster or iguana or something. It had a green-grey camouflage pattern on its leathery skin and was about the size of my cat (Do you know Popcorn, the cat? He has a bit of a weight problem. He's not overweight... just under tall--and he's a little sensitive about it, so, let's not mention it again.)  I thought it was SO cool, that I drove by it three times just to get a good look at it. Had it been on a less busy road, I would have gone in for a closer inspection and a photo--I was that excited about it. But, alas, my memory will have to suffice.

And speaking of lizards, we have seen lizards of all shapes, sizes, and colors in the wild here. I have seen a few lizards back home, too, but never cruising around inside my house (I'm just glad this particular little guy was crawling around in the office, and not my bed!) And, I have never before witnessed a lizard changing colors right before my eyes--that was WAY cool! I like lizards!... (from a distance).

There are other creatures that I don't care to see at ANY distance. Like cockroaches. Here, I pause to send up a prayer of thanks that we don't have cockroaches in Logan. Thankfully, to date, I have only found one cockroach (and a partial cockroach) inside the house. I am just grateful that the one that I found on my BARE SKIN!-- in the SHOWER!-- was the partial cockroach (a 3 inch antenna [I swear it was still wriggling!]), and not the entire live cockroach (which I bravely made Tom dispose of, thank you very much).

There are lots of cool exotic birds here. We have a pair of bright green parrots who live on the telephone wires above our house. They are always together, and they are LOUD; fighting like an old married couple. I really want to catch one and keep it as a pet--how cool would that be?! Unfortunately, the only bird that has flown into the house is just an ordinary little song-bird, and he turned around and flew right back out. The windows and doors here don't have any screens, and it is very common to leave them wide open for the breeze, so we still have a chance to acquire a pet before we leave...I'll keep you posted.

And then there are the horse/pony drawn carts that you see occasionally clomping down major avenues, or slowly making their way straight through the center of the city. It's kind of charming, in an Amish sort of way, unless you are behind one on a very narrow road, and you are late to pick up the kids from school.

I'm getting used to the fact that a big mac costs more than a nice steak dinner; that when calling on someone, you ring the bell at the end of the driveway, and wait for them to call you up to the house; that you kiss everyone hello and goodbye; that lunch is the big meal of the day, and dinner is just a few snacks late in the evening (hence, many restaurants are closed for dinner); and, that when you stop by to see someone--for whatever reason--even if it is just for a minute--you are always invited in and offered a snack and a drink (note to self: add cake and juice to the shopping list, to keep on hand for unexpected visitors).

So, while I wouldn't say that I am fully adjusted to life in a foreign country, I am becoming more accustomed to this temporary life, and it doesn't feel so foreign anymore. But the fact remains that I am a "Foreigner". I'm not from here. I do things differently. And that's okay. Right? This brings up an uncomfortable point; something that I have struggled with my whole life: I'm 38 years old, and I still want to be accepted. I want to do things the "right" way. I want to please people. I want to "fit in". Living in a different culture adds a whole new level of difficulty to this already impossible task.

But, people have been so understanding and accommodating here. They don't even flinch when I bump into them awkwardly with a greeting kiss. Nobody whispers when I forget to dress up for a nighttime party.  I haven't been corrected when I have knocked directly on someone's door. I am finally learning that there are lots of different "right" ways to do things; lots of different "normals".  I'm beginning to become a little more comfortable with MY normal--realizing that I am who I am, and people can accept it or not. And realizing this, I'm starting to feel less ashamed about driving through my affluent neighborhood in our old beater car, sounding like a B52 Bomber coming in for a hot landing. Nobody seems to mind. I am slightly more courageous about trying to speak in broken and grammatically incorrect sentences. Nobody laughs at me. I am a little more daring about ordering things at the counter in the grocery store (except for beef--Tom isn't even fluent in beef). And, I am a little less embarrassed when the other girls come over to the house and see the barren wasteland that is my huge, minimally furnished, undecorated, sterile white abode. And if I forget to offer them drinks, I know my true friends will feel comfortable enough to ask.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Whining Gets You Everything!

I am an "enablee" (this is my new made-up word that best describes my special personality). There are enablers and enablees. I fall into the second category. I think of this as an important position, in that it provides enablers a way to practice their talent.

In my last post, I photographed some of the loot we have received, by way of care packages. (Let's keep those coming, friends!) Yesterday, my biggest fan, Tom, gave into my incessant whining about the house and hired a cleaning lady. (He hired her last week--she came yesterday for the first time.) Actually, I just whined and complained about the difficulty of keeping a house of this size and type clean--I did not ask for a maid--in fact, I told Tom it would make me feel guilty to have one. But Tom, in his goodness and wisdom, hired one anyway. Bless Tom!!!

As I stated above, Vera came yesterday. We wanted her to clean the floors and bathrooms only (I wasn't sure she could even finish that much in a day.) But, she proved to be a wonder-woman of tidiness, a defender of sanitary surfaces! Like the Tasmanian Devil, she tore through the house, armed with every cleaning implement and product known to man, scrubbing every surface to a brilliant shine! (At least she was brilliant in my eyes!) She was not to be thwarted, even when our cheap mop handle broke; she simply went to the neighbor's house and borrowed another one. She scoured toilets and sinks, mopped floors (til they were clean!), washed windows, polished wood, even scrubbed the patios! I love this woman!!

The resulting cleanliness left me feeling bright and happy; like another huge burden had been lifted off my shoulders. I was able to do laundry, concentrate on studying Portuguese, even enjoy the children! (Sadly, I haven't done the latter in quite some time.) I couldn't believe the difference it made!

Last night, Tessa helped me make dinner. We had chicken noodle soup (now it's freezing cold here--go figure!?) and baking powder biscuits. I taught her how to measure, how to "cut in" the shortening, and even let her pat out the dough and cut it into biscuits. I have never had this much patience with any of my children before--and Tessa is the child who most easily gets on my nerves! We had such a great time together, and Tessa just ate it up! She was so proud of her accomplishment--and the biscuits were delicious!

I took Keira with me to pick up Tom from work, and we were able to talk about her day. She told me all about how the other kids love her because she does funny things (making faces, doing silly dances, etc.) They love to hug and kiss her. (If you know Keira, you know she thrives on hugs and kisses!) She has a special friend, Nicholas, who gives her notes. (Sorry, Christian--you've been replaced in Keira's affections!) She really is quite funny, and I enjoyed our time together.

All in all, it was a fantastic day! Now, I know that all of my problems didn't go down the drain with the dirty mop water, but the relief I experienced makes me feel "enabled" to conquer some of those challenges with a little more energy, a little more confidence, a little more joy. ( I even ironed today--I NEVER iron!!!) And I am looking forward to spending more quality time with my family--without worrying about if they are wearing the appropriate shoes in the appropriate rooms (I can handle the upkeep from week to week).

And so, the moral of this story is...I need a cleaning lady when we get home! ---Tom--are you reading this?!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Be Careful What You Ask For

I have learned so many things in the past 48 days. But the #1 thing that I have learned: Be careful what you ask for.

I have been praying, almost since arriving, to find a way to serve others. I feel like everyone has been giving to me, and I want to give back. Well, that prayer was answered unexpectedly in the form of a church calling. In the LDS church, we have a "lay ministry". This means that everyone who serves, in any capacity-- from the prophet on down to the janitors (we clean our own buildings)-- are volunteers. Everyone is asked to do something to help out. We believe that these "callings" are from God, and are a way that we can serve Him; by serving others.

Well, I received a calling two weeks ago to serve as a counselor in the Young Women Presidency. Young Women is an organization for girls ages 12-18. They meet on Sundays for religious study, as well as at least one other day per week for activities. In Utah, the Young Women leaders consist of a president, two counselors, a secretary, and three teachers. There can be other specialists called as necessary.

But, need I remind you, we are not in Utah anymore. I was asked to serve with the Young Women President, Pamela. That's it--just Pamela and me. The Young Women organization has not been functioning at full strength in this ward for a while. How could it? This poor girl, Pamela (and I call her a girl, because she can't be more than 19 or 20 years old), has been all by herself for a year and a half. She works AND goes to school. She is barely out of  Young Women herself!

Anyway, the bishopric thought that I could be helpful, and that I could somehow train Pamela. (Being from "Salt Lake City" somehow makes me wise in the ways of church leadership...they don't know me very well yet.) Unfortunately, being from Salt Lake does not make me a language expert. (Pamela doesn't speak English.) I accepted the calling, not really knowing how I would be of any use.

I began to pray extra hard for the language to come, and I have redoubled my efforts at studying my Portuguese lessons on the computer. I was doing everything I could, now I was ready for the blessings. I went to church that first Sunday feeling confident and ready. I was, however,  soon deflated. I did not understand any of the lesson, and I was not even able to form words into a simple sentence to introduce myself to Pamela. Instead, I pointed at myself and stated my name....
 (Me Kathy.... You Pamela...Grunt...Grunt)

I felt discouraged and felt the tears welling up. Then I remembered a blessing that I was given in relation to this calling; that I would have courage. After the lesson, I interrupted the chatter to invite the girls to an activity at my house for that Thursday night. They haven't been having week-night activities because of Pamela's extremely busy schedule. I didn't think anyone would come. They came! They even seemed excited to come! We had a great time playing get-to-know-you games. Marissa and I tried to speak in Portuguese. I discovered that one of the girls can speak English very well (I suspect her sister can, too). And, when things got really desperate, we yelled for Tom to translate. It was a great evening, and we planned to meet at my house the following week at the same time. This past Sunday, another counselor, Alessandra, was called. She doesn't speak English, but we are already Facebook friends, and I know we will become great friends in "real" life. The language is just a tiny barrier.

We have been experiencing an unseasonably warm spring here. And by "unseasonably warm", I mean "hotter than blazes"! It was so unbearably hot that Marissa and I were making daily jaunts down to the pool for "PE". (Now our hair is green.--What do they put in pool water here?!) Anyway, we were all praying for cooler temperatures. I mean--if this is the end of winter/beginning of spring--how will we survive summer?!

Finally, the clouds came, and the temperatures cooled slightly. We even got a cool breeze at night--sweet relief! Why do I need to be careful what I wish for in this circumstance, you ask? Well, perhaps you will recall that our hot water heater is solar powered. We had overcast skies for 3 days. Do you see where I am going with this? No sun = no solar power = no hot water. By the third day, we had used up all of our hot water reserves. This happened to be the day that the skies opened up to an all-day torrential downpour. The temperatures dipped dramatically--probably 50 degrees. This would have been a fantastic day for a good long soak in our giant tub. But, I settled for a quick, cold shower, trying to keep in mind, while darting in and out of the icy stream, the oppressive heatwave that we had just experienced, and MY prayers for cooler temperatures. (We did find out that we have a back-up electric water heater...only problem's broken.)

Good things can come from asking, too. I have been whining about all of the things I miss from back home. And now, the packages have begun to arrive!

I am sorely tempted to hoard this stash in my room, but I promise I will share with the rest of the family. Marissa did ask what we used the chocolate chips for when she saw that one of the bags was open. (I just gave her my innocent blank stare.)

These packages must have cost a fortune! And, while we LOVE these treasures from home, we CHERISH even more the care and concern that was packed along with each item. We feel your love, your support, and your prayers...and we thank you!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Things That Make You Go Hmmm...

I'm struggling again, and so I sit to write a few lines, poking fun at myself in an attempt to cheer myself up.

If I have learned anything during this "adventure", it is to have compassion for people who immigrate to other countries. No longer will I think of immigrants as uneducated, poor, lazy, unwilling to try to learn, etc. etc. (You fill in the stereotype). I am now one of those "immigrants"; although I do think of myself, at times, as poor and uneducated-- I am the one smiling and nodding when I have no idea what the other person is saying. I am the one who gets tired of trying to learn the language with little success. I am the one who cannot even identify basic household items. Let me give you a few examples:

One day, not long after arriving here, I was making dinner, and I needed to open a can of corn. I realized that I had not remembered to bring a can opener. I went down to my friend Marly's house to borrow one. The cleaning lady opened the door. Marly was not home, but I was not to be thwarted! I held out the can, shrugged my shoulders, and then performed my very best pantomime of a can opener. She knew immediately what I needed---phew! She brought me in the house and pulled open the kitchen drawer, handing me one of these:

(I have to say that this particular model is a lot more modern looking. The one she handed me looked like a crude, handleless knife).

I gave her a blank stare. She held the implement out to me, and so I tried, unsuccessfully, to jab the top of the can, Norman Bates style. (She was very kind to not laugh out loud.) She demonstrated. I tried. She was a pro. I was like a clumsy child with all thumbs. I now know why our Brazilian friend, Arthur, who visited us last summer, made fun of my electric can opener. Even my hand held Pampered Chef variety seems frivolous in comparison to these simple, but effective, gadgets.

The next day, I received a bag of gifts from Marly, including the above can opener. Also in the array, was a cellophane-wrapped package of three items:

I thought, "Well, that's cute--a flour container?, a random cup?, and a small Tupperware type container. Strange that these items should be packaged together like that."... Marly's 11 year old son, Renan, who delivered the goodies, had to explain it to me. The smallest container is for hiding a sponge next to the kitchen sink. The cup is a sort of "cozy" for the dish soap. And the largest container is meant to sit next to the sink to collect food scraps, and to dump the contents of the drain trap, as needed. At home, we call this a garbage disposal. The good news is, this model works even when the power goes out!

I think I've mentioned the mop before. Here is a picture of it:

This "mop" was at the house when we arrived.  It looks like a long handled squeegee. I thought, "Wow, they are really serious about clean windows here!" I went out shopping with our friend, Valeria. I told her I needed a mop. She took me to an aisle with these. I told her I already had one of these at home; what I needed was a MOP to clean the floor. (I think I spoke louder and slower here, and used gestures to get my point across.) She then kindly demonstrated how to use this type of mop with a rag (like the one pictured above). bad. (It's embarrassing to have someone show you how to mop when you are a 38 year old housewife.)

Grocery shopping is an adventure. I wish I had pictures, but I feel too conspicuous as it is, without pulling out a camera and taking photos of the meat counter. Let's just say, it's not what I am used to in America. Our friends tell me that at least the meat is refrigerated now. Let me send up a little prayer of thanks for that modern miracle. I do, however, and despite saying I never would, buy milk in boxes right off the shelf. How do they do that? It goes against everything I have ever believed in! But, it's not bad when you get it really cold.

The produce department is filled with wonders. In the last 10 years or so, with the convenience of worldwide import and distribution services, we have seen a lot more exotic items on our shelves in the U.S. (I remember a time when you couldn't find a fresh pineapple---gasp!) But, let me tell you, there are still items that we Americans have never seen--not even in text books.

I was brave enough to stealthily take a picture with my phone one day--right in front of the lady who weighs and marks your produce for you. I was amazed by the size of these:

 They reminded me of those overgrown zucchinis back home that people leave on their neighbors' doorsteps as a practical joke. I don't know what these are, but I think they would feed a family of 10 for a month. If you want more than one, they don't supply the mega jumbo produce bags at this store.You just have to hoist them on your back and haul them out to the flatbed truck.

I mentioned above the lady who weighs your produce for you. Most of the stores are like that here. You have to get the produce weighed and marked before you go to the checkout, as they have no scales up front. Thankfully, I very observantly noticed this one day before proceeding to the register...that would have been embarrassing.

And this brings me to the next different (not bad, just different) way of doing things--the multi-line checkout. At most stores (other than grocery stores), you take your purchases up to one counter, where the employee rings them up and gives you a receipt-like ticket. You then proceed to the next counter (usually located in a completely different part of the store) to pay for the items. It also seems to be necessary to place your things in a basket--it doesn't seem to matter if you have 1 or 50 items--this is an important step--placing your items in a basket. If you haven't done that, they do it for you at the counter. I haven't figured out the purpose of this multi-faceted system, but it seems to employ a lot of people, so I guess that's good for the economy. When I go to a new store, I just stalk customers for a while to observe the correct order for check-out before making any sudden moves.

Ah, I just heard the distinct call of the propane delivery guy out front. He drives around on his motorcycle a couple of times per week, sounding his horn, selling propane tanks. (We don't have gas plumbed into the house. Our stove is hooked up to a small propane tank. I'm not sure how you tell when you are getting low. I guess dinner just goes cold one night, and you say, "Oh, I must be out of gas.") Anyway, it took Marissa and I a few weeks to figure out what this clarion call was, but now I'm prepared for that fateful day. I just hope it happens around 2:00pm on a Monday or Wednesday.

Monday, September 17, 2012

American Birthday Party

I have been in a sort of "writing slump" the past few days, although much has happened since my last post. First of all, Keira had her 6th birthday. Happy Birthday, Keira! We had a party for her (if you can call it that), and invited some of our neighbors and all the people at Tom's lab. It was certainly not up to Brazilian standards, but it was fantastic, as far as Higbee birthday parties are concerned.

Brazilians must save up for a full year, beginning the moment one party ends, for the next year's festivities. We have seen some of these parties hosted here at our housing complex. The pavilion is rented out, and no expense is spared. They must invite every person they have ever had any slight contact with, directly or indirectly. And everybody comes, arms loaded with extravagant gifts. (You wouldn't believe how much toys cost here!)

There are huge inflatables, trampolines, perhaps a gaggle of acrobats to please and astound the party goers. And don't forget the food--lots and lots of food! These parties last for hours, and I can only imagine what goes on inside. The party thrown this last weekend was adorned with Royal flags and a huge custom banner, regally inscribed with the little prince's name. Tom surmised that the birthday boy is perhaps 1 year old. I wonder if he napped through the acrobats?

Our party was not quite of this caliber. We are not yet outfitted to do a traditional Brazilian barbecue; and besides, we wanted to have something truly American. If you have read any of my previous posts, you know how difficult it can be to acquire the ingredients for such fare. So, we decided to do an American style "pancake extravaganza"! This was Tom's idea, and I thought it sounded great, as Tom is the pancake chef of the family. Pancakes are one of Keira's favorite foods, so this was agreeable to the birthday girl as well.

Tom made a quadruple batch of pancakes. He was cooking for quite some time, as we do not have a griddle--just a small, square, electric frying pan (it belongs to Marly). He cooked them up 4 at a time and put them in the oven for warming. We made "maple" syrup (that 1 bottle of mapleine is nearly gone--please send more!) I also had sliced, sugared strawberries and fresh whipped cream. We had an assortment of fresh fruits, and juice and soda to drink (can you say, "sugar high"?--what's more American than that?!)

I don't know if anyone had ever had maple syrup before. Some party goers were unsure how to apply it to the pancakes. One guest drank it in a cup (you know who you are!!) Some had syrup, strawberries, and cream on their pancakes--all at once--hmmm...not sure how that tasted. Everyone seemed to like them, or at least they were very gracious, and had seconds.

Marissa was my decorating committee. She hung up balloons and a dollar store type "Feliz Aniversario" banner in the backyard. Marly loaned us tables, chairs, and table cloths. The Wii "Dance Central" was our entertainment. We had about 20 guests, who all brought generous gifts. The cake was fantastic (a brigadeiro cake ordered from a local bakery--3 layers of chocolate cake with alternating layers of white  and chocolate "brigadeiro" filling [a type of custard made with sweetened condensed milk]. The whole thing was covered in chocolate and white chocolate curls.--It was very decadent!) I made the mistake of buying little noise makers for the goody bags. Even though the "children" were mostly teenagers, we had quite a racket going on in the house (remember that my house is all tile, no carpet or insulation to soak up the sound--not one of my better ideas).

It may not have been a traditional Brazilian Birthday Extravaganza--one of our neighbors said, "This is different from a Brazilian birthday party." (She wasn't being judgemental--just stating a fact)--but that wasn't what we were going for--after all, we aren't really Brazilian. At one point, Keira said, "This is the best birthday party ever!!!"  And that's all that really matters in the end.

Keira with all her booty!
 Next to her is our neighbor's granddaughter, Manuela. She and Keira were hugging and holding hands all night--proving you don't need to speak the same language to "speak the same language".
Brigadeiro cake--I've got to figure out the recipe!!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Now Serving Lemonade

I was recently accused of being one of those persons who makes lemonade out of lemons. While I am flattered by this distinction, I feel, for the sake of full disclosure, that I may have misrepresented myself here in this blog. The danger of the Internet is that one can paint oneself into whatever portrait they like in print. It is not my intention to give the reader the idea that I am always optimistic about life, making the best of any and all situations I find myself in. Quite the opposite.

You see, it has been a continual pity party around here, where I am always the guest of honor. This is not the "sulk quietly in the bedroom, alone" kind of pity party. Oh, no!-- I invite, nay, require all of my family members to attend and partake in my suffering. It is only later, when I am seated at my computer, safely distanced from the day's events, that I am able to put some perspective on things.

It is  by the grace of God alone that I am able to see the blessings in my difficulties. I am continually amazed that He allows me; unworthy, ungrateful creature that I am, to spy these glimpses of goodness in my life, despite my strongest efforts to see only the negative. (Tom says I can see the dark cloud in every silver lining.)

Let me give you an example: We were invited to 2 barbecues over the weekend. The food was fantastic, the atmosphere comfortable and beautiful, and the people were attentive and gracious. However, I focused on the fact that I could not communicate adequately my thanks to the hosts, or join in the chit-chat of the women. I felt sorry for myself--I felt alone (yet I was surrounded by friends!), I was mute (when I LOVE to talk!), I was worried about the children (they were having a wonderful time!).

Later, as I was writing about the events in my journal, I remembered the kind old man-- the one who spoke a little English-- who tried to talk to me every time he saw me sitting apart. I could tell that it was a strain for him to think and speak in English, but I felt his compassion for me as he did. I thought of the women who tried so hard to include me in conversation, even when they knew only a handful of words in my tongue. I contrasted that with my own actions; those of feeling it was too hard or too scary to try and formulate my thoughts into Portuguese. I thought of the generosity of strangers in having us in their home, sharing their bounty. I thought about new friends, reaching out to make us feel welcome; in their words, "only doing what they hoped others would do for them in similar circumstances." This is where the blessings begin to flow in. This is when I start to see the virtues of those lemons.

And then... I forget it all the next day when I get lost in the city, when I can't find what I'm looking for in the grocery store, when I have to communicate with the repair man. Life is so haaaard! It's too impossibly hard!! I can't do this! Not for a whole year! I miss my family, I miss my friends, I miss my air conditioning, I miss my garbage disposal, I miss my "normal"! (Weeping! and wailing! and gnashing of teeth!)

And then I write about my wrong turns, the strange products for sale, the fragmented "communication", and I realize how funny it is. I wouldn't be having these experiences back home. I wouldn't be making these memories. That's when it occurs to me that lemonade is not just sweet--it's also sour; and that's what makes it so good!! So, I am making lemonade! and it's delicious! (And let's be real here--I have pity parties most days back in the States. The only difference here is the exotic locale.) So, I'll continue these "therapy sessions", and hopefully, eventually,  I'll learn to taste the sweet-tart goodness of that lemonade before I put my fingers to the keyboard--for the sake of the children.  ;)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

It is HOT, HOT, HOT here! (And it's still winter!) We  have ceiling fans in the bedrooms that help--- minimally. We have been opening all the windows and doors in the evening and early morning, but there are no screens, and everyone is getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. It has become a sort of game to see who has the most welts each morning. We actually have screens in the upstairs bedrooms (very rare here), and we are going to look for mosquito netting tomorrow to fashion some crude screens in the downstairs windows; trailer-park style.

We were invited to another barbecue yesterday by another set of neighbors, Daniel and Patricia. This one was at the beautiful lake house of some of their friends. We were treated like family, and we had a great time! The kids played in the pool and the lake, went on boat rides, and hung out with other children of similar ages. There were even 2 girls from the kids' school there! Tom and I ate, and ate, and ate some more. A Brazilian barbecue seems to be an all day eating fest. I like it!

Tom was lamenting to the men about items that he misses from home, like cheddar cheese and bacon.
Tonight, our neighbors brought us cheddar cheese:

and bacon:

Some things just don't translate.

I am happy to report, however, that we finally found peanut butter which closely resembles American peanut butter--even Keira ate it! It comes in a tiny container, and it is "muito caro" (very expensive), but I think we will find a way to fit it in our budget.

Besides the air conditioning, the cheddar cheese, and the bacon, I miss carpet (have I mentioned this before?), swiffers, and flushing toilet paper. Yep, that's right, you can't flush the toilet paper here. I just can't get over that one, so we are on the 3 square rule: if you can't get the job done in 3 squares, flush, and try again. We may be contributing to some big problems down the line, if so, I apologize to the country of Brazil. We are only using the 3 square rule at home. In public, we use the customary garbage can deposit. This can be a little confusing for Keira. When she is in a public restroom, she will yell through the stall, "Mom?! I have a question!" She waits for a reply. Then, "Does this toilet paper go in the toilet or the garbage?!" Anyone who knows Keira, knows how loud this question is asked. We try not to use public restrooms.

There are other items I miss as well. But, most of all, I miss my friends and my family. I am making new friends, who are becoming like family, but the old ones are irreplaceable. So, as I think of the things that I miss most, to ease the homesickness, I think I will change the word, "miss" to the words, "grateful for". I'm glad that I have this chance to see all that I have had, and to experience new things and new people, which will add to my life immeasurably.  I sure do have a lot to be grateful for!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Independence Day

Today is Brazil's Independence Day. We celebrated by going to a neighborhood barbeque. Marly and Marceo hosted it in our honor.

Everything was delicious, and our neighbors are really nice. The men all hung out around the barbeque and the women all visited around the tables. I didn't understand much of anything. It seems that I am understanding less than when we first moved here. It is frustrating. Marly kept trying to speak slowly for me so I could understand. I don't think anyone can speak slow enough for me. I now know how those Sapanish speaking immigrants feel in Logan. I could never understand why they would nod and say "yes, yes" when they obviously didn't understand. Why would they pretend to know what was being said?! Hypocritically, I found myself smiling and saying, "sim, sim" a lot today. They knew I was faking it. They would try even harder to make me understand. When things got really desperate, I would yell for Tom to bail me out. This Independence Day, I look forward to the day when I can be independent.

I may not be able to communicate my most basic needs. I may not be able to follow along and participate in a neighborhood party given in my honor, but, in  my new-found spirit of optimism, let me dwell on the things I CAN do:

First, I CAN do my own laundry (yipee!). And thanks to Tom, I can do it anytime I want. We just got a dryer yesterday! This took some time to find, as most people dry clothes the old-fashioned way; the way Mother-Nature intended. Let me just state here that I actually didn't mind hanging my clothes on the line. Tom, however, got tired of the crunchy socks and stiff underwear. My "new" dryer has 2 settings: "off" and "on". My old dryer also had 2 settings: "rain" or "shine". I have to admit that it is nice to be able to do a load of towels after the sun goes down. And Tom's socks don't stand in the corner anymore.

I CAN feed myself and my family. This is a little tricky, at times, but we haven't gone hungry yet. I have written previously about the difficulty in finding some ingredients. We are learning some of the things that work for our family and those things that do not work. For instance, nobody likes octopus. This comes as a big surprise for those of you who know the eating habits of my kids. I have to admit, though, that I was a little hesitant to try this delicacy. My good friend Marly brought over a lovely dish for us called, "Panela" (or something like that). I think that in other cultures it is called, "paella"--not sure on that--it's not a staple at our home. It is a dish with seasoned rice, meats, and seafood.

It had GIANT shrimp on top (they still had the heads on). It had chicken, sausage, calamari, and peas. I love all of these things. Here is where it got interesting.

Yep, that's a tiny octopus. The whole dish was "swimming" in them. I was not about to put that in my mouth! We found one of those on the beach in Rio. I saw it wriggling around. Now, looking down at my plate, I could imagine that little live octupus feeling it's way around on my tongue with slimy tenticles. No way would I try that!... Well, everything else tasted so good, and it would make good fodder for my blog....What the heck! I popped it into my mouth. I was careful not to touch it too much with my tongue. Mmmmm! It tasted good! I ate the rest of them.

What is this on my fork, you ask? No clue. But it was once alive, as evidenced by the internal organs visible upon dissection. I finally decided that I needed to not look too closely at the food before putting it in my mouth. Down the hatch. Soft...tender...delicious!

My family didn't try any of this dish. I had the whole bowl to myself--and I enjoyed it thouroughly!!

On the subject of food; last night, we went to a rodizio style pizza place (they bring the pizzas around to your table and you choose which ones you want). This place boasts 43 different types of pizza. I remember a lady I knew in California. She was touting the versitility of pizza: "You can put anything on it!" I had no idea...

At this retaurant there was pizza with hard boiled eggs, peas, ham, and onions; pizza with raw arugala and olive oil; pizza with mashed potatoes and bacon; different kids of fish and capers; steak pizza; shrimp pizza; pizza with sausage (Hilshire Farms type); chicken; mega garlic; pizza of unknown origin (there were several pizzas for which Tom couldn't translate the names of the toppings--we avoided those); and then there was the hot dog pizza. Tom tried this one--against my better judgement. It had a layer of mashed potatoes, followed by sliced up hot dogs (the hot dogs here are a strange orange color), and topped with crunchy potato chip strips. All that was missing was the ketchup. Tom didn't care for it. Duh! The only topping  they didn't have was pepperoni. We won't be taking the kids back to this particular pizza place. However, we did finish off the night on a good note. They started bringing around the dessert pizzas and ice cream. Yummy! You can't go wrong with chocolate sauce!

Back to my CAN DO list:

I CAN do the dishes. I am learning to pack that little disher washer with efficiency. Even my sister-in-law, Holly, would be proud.

I CAN clean the floors and bathrooms. It may take me all day and a lot of sweat, but I need to work out. Who cares if it needs to be done again tomorrow?

I CAN help Marissa with her school work. I am becoming very adept at looking up information on the internet.

I CAN go grocery shopping by myself (as long as I don't have to order anything at the meat counter). It may take me three hours of wandering up and down aisles, using the google translate on my phone to decipher labels, but it can be done. I just have to make sure that I have enough cash. I can't access our bank account yet-- I don't have a debit card. Apparently these things take time to process. I rang up my purchases last night on my calculator. I added it up twice--OK, 3 times--I was a little nervous. It came to $93 (Reais). I had $110. My math skills aren't great. I was worried the entire hour I waited in the check-out line (don't go to Extra at closing time). I got up to the counter prepared to take out a few items if needed. My order rang up to $62.57. Go figure.

So the moral of the story is: While I may have to do things a little differently, and with a little more effort, I am taking (teeny-tiny) baby steps toward independence. Maybe next week I'll be able to answer the phone.... Maybe.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Roller Coaster

I needed to take some time to distance myself from events of the past few days before I could write about them (I needed to part the clouds). It has been an "interesting" few days...

I am getting around a little more on my own. The streets are crazy here. I think I mentioned all of the round-abouts in a previous post. Let me just paint a little clearer picture of these for you: These are not your basic, no nonsense round-abouts. No, no. These are more like spaghetti bowls; tangled masses of twists and turns, exits and on-ramps. One round-about is connected to another round-about, which dumps you into a 3rd round-about, etc. Cars are streaming in and out from all directions--with no clear signage as to who is supposed to yield to whom. By the time you exit from these dizzying circles, you don't know which way is up. Add to this high speeds and a few huge "shock breaking" speed bumps, just for good measure, and you've got yourself a ride that rivals the tilt-a-whirl at the county fair.

Monday, I got lost picking the kids up from school. I have taken them and picked them up a few times before, with no problem. Previously, I have had to take a detour, as one of the main avenues was under construction. However, Monday afternoon, the avenue was open. I thought I could just take this main road instead of the winding, bumpy detour through residential streets. I was a titch late, and this would save me some time--it must have been an answer to my prayers.

It wasn't the answer I was looking for. I turned one block too early off of the avenue, because the street was not clearly marked. (None of the streets are clearly marked; this particular street was not marked at all.) I soon realized my mistake, and taking into account the one way streets, I looked for a street to take me back to the street I should have originally turned on. Finding one, I turned and headed in the direction of the street in question (or so I thought). I went for several blocks and couldn't find my street. Where had it gone?! I knew I was headed in the right direction, but the street was nowhere to be found. Giving up on finding that street, I turned left to head in the direction of the next major avenue that I needed. I figured I would find it if I just kept heading in the right  direction. Soon, however, I crossed over a street that should have been intersecting with the street I was looking for. This didn't make sense, as I was positive I was headed in the right direction! (If you are lost reading this jumbled up set of directions, don't worry, so was I at this point... Remember that first, fateful wrong turn?--It was at the beginning of a round-about. Picture the spokes on a wheel--each one goes off in a different direction--here was my problem.)

Anyway, I continued to get more lost. I would find a street that I knew, but I would be too far South or North, East or West (I have no idea which direction is which in this crazy landmark-free town!) I would try to backtrack on the one-way roads, but I wouldn't go far enough, or I would go too far, and have to backtrack again. (I have an innate sense of direction.) I felt that I  knew basically where I was, I just couldn't figure out how to get exactly where I was going. (You know when you see something in a dream, and you try to go toward it, but to no avail? It was something like that.)

 Now, I was late to pick up the kids. I didn't have the number for the school. I started to panic. I decided to call Tom. It is illegal to make calls while driving. I decided to throw caution to the wind. I called. I got the crazy Brazilian guy on Speed (this is the fast-forwarded message in Portuguese from the phone company that I often get when I make a call. I have no idea what the guy is saying; I just know that it means my phone service is not working...AGAIN!) Maybe I'll stop and ask for directions. Then, I think, "I have yet to meet an employee of a store or gas station who speaks English. And, I can't for the life of me remember the name of the street the school is on right now." Maybe not.

The way I see it, there are 2 options right now; pray for help, or shout curse words at your husband. I choose the latter. It doesn't work. Finally, thank goodness, Tom calls. Now I can really shout some curse words! It still doesn't work.

Well, long story short(er): I circled around and around until I found the correct street-- by pure luck (should have prayed), and I was only 15 minutes late. They (the kids and the administrators) were very understanding. Tessa was a little nervous that I wouldn't be able to find my way home. I did.

By this time, my whole day (and the next day) was ruined. The funny thing is, I really never felt that lost. I knew I could find my way eventually. It's not that big of a town. I was just really frustrated with my situation. My phone rarely works. I'm in a foreign country and I don't speak the language. I have to rely on others (mostly Tom) to do everything. I have lost my independence. I feel like an infant.

Monday had started off to be a great day. My neighbor, Marly (the one who brought groceries the first night, and has brought food almost every day since), came over with ingredients and supplies to cook lunch. I had asked her to take me shopping and teach me how to make some of the traditional foods. She went ahead and bought the ingredients and gave me half of her pots and pans, and then showed up to cook for me. I was overwhelmed. We tried to communicate with each other (clumsily) while she taught me. I felt so helpless. Here she was, doing this wonderful thing for me--how could I ever repay her? She has already done so much! I invited her and her son, Renan, to stay and eat with us. No, no--she couldn't stay today, but she would be back tomorrow to teach me more. So, here I am, eating the lunch that she bought and cooked for me, feeling like a loser.

Yesterday, I had to cancel the cooking instruction, because our family had to go to another city to register with the Federal Police. (This went a lot better than expected. We [mostly Tom] have dealt with a lot of bureaucracy since our arrival. There is a lot of number taking, line waiting, going to 3 different agencies to accomplish 1 thing...that sort of thing.) Anyway, we arrived back in the afternoon, and Renan showed up with the day's offering of food--fresh strawberries--YUM!) Later, Renan showed up on the doorstep again with a huge bag full of new plastic storage containers, a cheese grater, a garlic press, some bowls, and a few other assorted kitchen supplies. Marly had seen how sorely lacking my supplies were and took pity on me. Now, I am in tears. I can never repay her kindness. Tom suggests that maybe she takes pleasure in helping me, and I should learn to accept the help.

So, maybe this year-long adventure we have embarked on is a chance for me to learn a few things--relying on others when I need it, having patience (with others and myself), and learning that happiness is more about attitude , and less about situation.

Right now, our family is reading in the Book of Mormon about Lehi and his family. This was a family who left their wealth and earthly possessions in Jerusalem because Lehi had been warned in a dream that Jerusalem would be destroyed. They travelled in the wilderness for 8 years before sailing to the "promised land"--the Americas. During this time, Lehi's son, Nephi, was obedient and faithful. The journey was hard, but he knew that the Lord could help him accomplish anything. Lehi's other sons, Laman and Lemuel, however, were complainers. They wanted to go back to the comforts of home. They didn't have faith that the Lord could help them. They didn't try to learn from the circumstances they were in. They were wicked and miserable.

I am ashamed to say that I have been like Laman and Lemuel, constantly complaining, and missing out on a lot of the good things around me. When I try to rely on the Lord (and other people, whom, I believe, are instruments in His hands), I am happier; even through the hard times. Why can't I get this through my thick head?! I love it when my problems are answered in the scriptures. It feels like they were written just for me.

Today, I woke up with a better attitude (the sun shining, the birds singing, blah, blah, blah...) Marly came over to pick me up to take me shopping and give me more cooking lessons. I had written a letter and then translated it on the computer (who knew you could do that?!) I gave it to her this morning. The words were a little messed up, but the message was clear: I am overwhelmed with gratitude for all she has done for me, and I will never forget her kindness. I thank God for her daily. We were both in tears.

We went to the store. I bought the food. We cooked together. We communicated more easily (thanks to google translate). We laughed. We hugged. We cried. She still wouldn't stay to eat, but I felt that we had shared something special--both of us giving and receiving. There is no doubt that I am on the greater receiving end, but, as Marly said, "I will always be here for you. I am happy to do it." I hope that I can do the same; for her, for others, for my Lord and my God.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Baptism Day

In our church, we believe that a person reaches the "age of accountability" at eight years old. This means that a person is able to distinguish right from wrong, and they have the opportunity to be baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We believe that this is an important step along our mortal path; one in which we commit to follow our Savior, Jesus Christ and do our best to keep the commandments and live the gospel. At baptism, two separate ordinances are performed; the first is baptism by immersion to wash away our sins and to make special covenants, or promises, to our Heavenly Father.  After baptism, we are able, through the authority of the Priesthood (the power to act in the name of God), to be confirmed a member of the church, to hear special blessings that the Lord has in store for us if we are faithful, and to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. We believe that the Holy Ghost is the 3rd member of the Godhead and is a personage of spirit who can inspire and direct all people at different times in their lives. However, when given the "gift of the Holy Ghost" through the ordinance of confirmation after baptism, a person has the right and privilege to call upon that gift for guidance and comfort, through  his/her faith and obedience.

Today was a special day in our family. It was our daughter, Tessa's, baptism day! She will be the only member of our family to be baptized in another country and in another language (unless we move somewhere else in 2 years...don't get any ideas, Tom!)

Tessa was so excited for her baptism day and was eager to have this special ordinance performed. She was able to have a member of our bishopric interview her a few weeks ago. He asked questions of Tessa in Portuguese, she answered in English; with Tom translating for each.

This afternoon, we had a special program, along with the baptism and confirmation. Many people from our ward and other surrounding wards (people who didn't even know us) came. All of the missionaries serving in Sao Carlos came. There were 3 American Elders. We had fun talking with them, and they had fun speaking in English and comparing stories about the transition to life in Brazil. Jaden gave the opening prayer. Tom told him he had to do it in Portuguese. He was a little concerned. He ended up offering a very nice prayer (in English). One of the American Elders gave a talk about baptism (in English). I then bore my testimony (in English, of course). The Relief Society President spoke in Portuguese. Tom whispered the translation in Tessa's ear.

Tom performed the baptism in Portuguese. Tessa had a huge smile on her face when she came out of the water. She told me later that she felt good (and, that the water was like an American hot tub!). I went into the bathroom to help her dry off and change clothes. The primary president came in to help us. I spoke to her in complete sentences! (more or less). It was cool.

Marissa played the prelude music before the baptism and the interlude music while Tom and Tessa were getting dressed. She did a fantastic job!! She hasn't played the piano since we left Logan. They want her to play in Sacrament meeting next Sunday.

Tom also performed the confirmation (this one was in English, so Tessa could understand the blessings given). All of the men who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood were invited to join Tom in the circle where they layed their hands on Tessa's head to perform the ordinance. Afterward, she shook everybody's hand. They all offered her "parabens!", or "congratulations!"

There were 2 more talks given in Portuguese--one by the Primary President (the leader of the children), the other by a member of the Bishopric. A special musical number was performed by 2 men in our Stake. They sung in English, which was very special.

Some of the women in the ward had made cupcakes and a special cake for the occasion. Everyone sang "Happy Birthday" in Portuguese. They sing it over and over, getting faster and faster, while snapping their fingers. My kids can't sing "Happy Birthday" to each other here--they can't snap their fingers! Tessa was wearing a beautiful white dress that Grandma Huffman got for her special day. Have any of you ever seen Tessa eat? We now need to find a dry cleaner.

We missed our family and friends very much, but were very grateful for the support of our new ward "family". It was a special day and unique experience that we will all remember.

  Special Day

 Beautiful Tessa

 They had one huge white jumpsuit for Tessa to wear, It was an adult size small. We rolled up the legs, and it worked. The crotch hung down to her shins. haha

 Tessa did not want to stop eating her cake to pose for a picture.

 "Mmmmm!" Yummy Brigadeiro cake

All of the men who stood in the circle for the confirmation

Saturday, September 1, 2012


Just thought I would share a few of the tiny successes I have had which feel like HUGE accomplishments to me:

Yesterday, I took the kids to school all by myself.  Tessa has a great fear of being lost. The whole way there, she sat in the backseat with an anxious look on her face, and repeatedly asked if I knew where we were. I did. Most of the time. They arrived on time and unharmed. I even found my way back home!

Tom had stayed home to wait for the washing machine repair man. When it became evident that he wasn't coming, I took Tom to work all the way across town. I then found my way to the grocery store. (I only missed one turn--but found my way back. This is  more difficult than it sounds, as most streets in the center of town are one-way. Many of the major streets have round-abouts as well. Just thinking of the trouble that the ONE North Logan round-about has caused back home, it's interesting to be navigating multiple round-abouts with drivers who practice "fastest or biggest car goes first" traffic rules. Just a little side note about the driving: Tom thinks I fit in very well here with my driving skills. I don't know whether to be flattered, or offended. I do pride myself in the fact that at least I look like a local when behind the wheel of my vehicle.)

Anyway, at this store, they have a place where you can buy ready made food at lunch and dinner times. The workers give you a number. You stand in a line and order what you want and they serve it up behind a counter. Then, your order goes to the register and when your number is called, you can pick it up. The line was long and I had to order the food before I could actually see the signs with the names of the food. I successfully ordered rice and chicken on a skewer using actual Portuguese words!! Then, I saw something way down the line that looked like enchiladas. (I love Mexican food!) I said, "enchiladas". This is not a Portuguese word. The woman looked at me blankly. I was able to point and gesture (I think I even hopped at one point???) and she figured out what I wanted. When I got close enough to the sign, I discovered that they are called, "panquecas", and they are actually meat wrapped in crepes-not tortillas. (They were delicious!) Then, I waited for my number to be called. It was called several times before the guy in front of me pointed to my ticket and then to my order. I need to study numbers.

The repair man came to fix the washer in the afternoon. I was able to communicate to the security guards who called the house in order to let him in. This is the first time for that, and I felt proud! I was then able to determine that the washer needed a new motor and that he would bring it the next morning at 9:00. I even taught him a few English words. I find that if I concentrate really hard, I can understand a lot of what people say. The speaking--not so much--I guess it will come.

I am beginning to attempt to speak to people. We went to a restaurant for dinner. I was able to tell the waitress that there was no toilet paper in the bathroom. I said it in a complete sentence--and she understood me!! My head was swollen all night.

With the kids off to school, I was able to get some work done around the house. (It took me most of the day just to sweep the floor.)

 I know these all sound like small things, but it's amazing how triumphant they made me feel. Small victories...