Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Not Frozen to Death Yet!

All the 'kids' in Eric's family. From left to right is: Kelly (the baby sister), me, Madison (the 3 1/2 year old niece), Eric, Kaylee (the 20 month old niece), Brian (Tanya's husband), Tanya (Eric's older sister), Ryan (Tammy's boyfriend), and Tammy (Eric's middle sister).

So we've made it through more than a week of Iowa winter and I haven't turned into an icicle yet! Quite an accomplishment given the snow, ice, and sub-freezing temperatures!!! (Although, I will get into trouble if I don't tell you that it 'warmed up' yesterday. We had a high of 36 degrees. Eric kept saying, "It is really nice out today!" I still think we need to work on the definition of 'warm'!) Eric is loving the snow and the cold and says that it feels like Christmas now to him. I am tolerating it all, but I hear the tropical Brasil climate calling to me!!! I tend to agree with Madison, our niece. She looked out the window this weekend at Eric and Kelly out in the snow, looked back up at me and said, "They are NUTS! I don't know why they like to be cold!" All I could do is laugh. She is getting so grown up (and so smart too!)

We got to go up to Urbana, IA on Friday to help Eric's mom celebrate her birthday. All his family was there, so we had a really good time with everyone. The most fun was being able to give our nieces an early Christmas present. (I love seeing kids reactions at Christmas time! We don't have any kids on my side anymore, so I have a blast shopping for our 2 nieces and getting to play with them.) Eric's sister, Tanya, told us the girls needed snowboots, and given the current base of snow out there, we decided to let them open their boots on Friday. Of course, that led to Madison (who is only 3 1/2 and shouldn't be able to read, right?) finding every gift under the tree with her name on it and trying to convince her Mom to let her open up some more presents. And then came the challenge of convincing the 20 month old niece that she should take off her new boots so that her feet would stop sweating while she was inside. But all that pleading was met with an insistent "boots . . . on!" My nieces share my love of all things shoes. And with little girl shoes being so stinkin' cute . . . well, I have a real problem walking past a pair in their sizes. Throw in a sale (regardless of how small it may be) and I'm a goner for sure! But, much to Eric's dismay, it is soooo much fun!

We've been enjoying getting together with some of our Burlington friends since we've been in town and are looking forward to a couple more days to catch up with everyone. Then it is back to Urbana this weekend and then to Georgia on Christmas Day! We are expecting our visas to be finished up and ready for us shortly after Christmas and are supposed to be shipped to us in Georgia. If all goes as planned and we have our documents in hand, we leave January 1st to head back South. (You know, where it is WARM!)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

How We Ended Up in the Frozen Tundra of Iowa

So, this is where I am today. (The picture is taken out of my hotel window because it is too stinkin' cold to go outside again right now!) This is the frozen tundra of Burlington, IA. We made it into town last night just in time for the ice storm that is passing through the area. Luckily, the temperature has risen just enough to stop the rain from freezing right now, but tonight it is supposed to go back to getting icy. Brrrrrr and YUCK!

So I haven't yet shared our travel story and I guess I should tell you how it is we ended up here (and maybe why we spent the weekend in Mexico!)

Thursday started out a normal day. The day we were supposed to fly into Chicago. Our plane was to arrive in Chicago at 5:00 Friday morning. We were going to the consulate's office on Friday to finish up our visa paperwork and then we were heading to Urbana to spend the weekend with Eric's parents.

We arrived at the airport in Belo Horizonte with plenty of time to check into our flight. Our flight was delayed about an hour, but we had a 5 hour layover in Sao Paulo, so we knew we'd be okay to catch our flight to Chicago.

Once we arrived in Sao Paulo, we had to take a taxi over to the international airport. Traffic was bad and so it took an hour and a half to get there. The check-in lines were terrible and we stood in line from about 8:00 until 10:30. Our flight was to leave at 10:30, but while waiting in line, we learned that the flight was canceled due to bad weather in Chicago (or at least that's the reason they gave us.) At 10:30 we got to the ticket counter and were there for a half hour while the agent tried to find another flight to put us on. Finally, she said our only option was to fly to Mexico City and then catch a flight to Chicago from there. She said we would arrive at 1:00 pm in Chicago. Yea! We will still have time to get by the consulate!

United Airlines was putting us on an AeroMexico flight, so we then had to go over to their ticket counter to check our baggage. No line there-PERFECT! Especially since we had just an hour now before our new plane was leaving. At this point it is 11:00 pm on Thursday and we haven't eaten anything since lunch.

We make our way over to the international security station so we can get into the terminal and board our plane at midnight. The international line is a mile long. Holy cow! We knew there was no way we would make our flight to Mexico City now! And we are starving and we both get a little cranky when we are hungry. Eric left me in line while he ran to find something for us to eat. He came back with a yummy hot croissant sandwich and an ice cold beer. A beer and sandwich had never tasted so good to me! We stood in the security line convinced we would never make our flight and try to scarf down our meal.

Luckily, the plane got delayed and we made it on board just in the nick of time! On to Mexico City. We took a dose of Simply Sleep and settled in for our 8.5 hour overnight flight.

We arrived in Mexico City and had 3 hours until our Chicago flight left. The airline was transferring our bags for us, so we wouldn't have to go through customs. We checked at the gate to make sure the boarding pass we had would be all we needed and the airline employee said we were good to go, just wait until boarding time. 9:00 am rolls around and they are boarding our plane. We get in line excited that we are about to be on the last leg of our journey to the US. When it was our turn to hand over our boarding pass, we were told we couldn't board the plane! Apparently, we needed to go through immigrations and get a little piece of paper before they would let us out of the Mexico Airport. (Remember how we had asked the lady if we had everything we needed? She lied . . .)

So as our plane left the gate, we went to immigrations. Here we had to answer all kinds of pertinent questions like how many days we had been in Mexico (0.125 days), where we had visited while in Mexico (the airport?), and then we got our little piece of paper that would allow us to leave the country. Now, it was off to find our luggage, since the lady at the gate told us they would be removing our bags from the plane.

Two and a half hours later and after being sent from one end of the airport to the other a couple of times, we had our luggage in hand and we made the long walk down to the AeroMexico ticket counter to get new boarding passes for another flight. They then directed us to another counter elsewhere in the airport. Well, no luck there either. Because our original flight (from Sao Paulo to Chicago) was with United Airlines, we would have to talk to them about a new flight. And have I mentioned yet that while we are being shuffled all around the airport, we have a suitcase monorail going? Because we had Christmas gifts to bring back to the US and because we need to take some things back home with us, we have 4 very large suitcases along with 2 carry-on upright suitcases and a small duffel bag. There are two of us, which makes 4 hands, which means we had to strap suitcases together and try to maneuver them all through the crowded airport.

At some point on our way to the United ticket counter, Eric looked at me and said, 'we aren't going to get to Chicago during business hours anyway . . . we should call my uncles and just spend the weekend in Mexico and go to Chicago on Monday.' So we did.

Eric called Arturo (who happens to be in charge of customs at the Mexico City Airport). He was a bit surprised to hear we were standing just a couple thousand feet from his office, but he came over and picked us up. He took us out for lunch and then drove us out to Cuernavaca to the summer house that Eric's grandparents owned.

We were met by the other 2 uncles in Mexico, Rafa and Luiz, and their families. Friday night we ate some more tacos (yummy!) and hung out with all the family. We woke up Saturday morning and Arturo asked us if we would like to go to his home in Puebla. I wanted to meet the rest of the family and Eric was excited to see his other 2 cousins, so off we went to continue our 2 day Tour de Mexico.

After a fun day in Puebla of horseback riding, some awesome Mexican food, and getting the tour of the city, it was off again on Sunday to head back to the airport. We hopped on a bus and took the 2.5 hour ride back into Mexico City.

Our plane from Mexico City was delayed about an hour, and then we boarded, and then there was a computer problem in the flight deck, so we sat out on the taxiway for another hour and a half or so and THEN, FINALLY, we were in the air and on our way to Chicago. We got into O'Hare about 9:00, stood in line for immigration and customs, and then had to wait an hour for our hotel shuttle to arrive. (We were getting a little cranky again by this point!) But we finally arrived at our hotel about 11 that night. So, 84 hours after we started our trip, we were at our final destination.

The next morning, we got our paperwork dropped off at the Brazilian Consulate, picked up our rental car, and made it into Burlington about 6:00 Monday evening. We were both rather exhausted.

We had a fun time in Mexico and it was great to finally get to meet the rest of Eric's family, but WOW! If I don't have to step foot into another airport for awhile I think it will be just fine! At one point during our 5 hours of standing in lines in Sao Paulo Eric told me I had better like Brasil. When I asked why he informed me that we may never leave the country again until our time there was completed! A little later on I suggested to Eric that we just drive next time we want to visit the US-I still think it might have been quicker! ;) Hopefully our flight back in a few weeks will go a little smoother and we will forget our vows not to fly ever again. hehe

This was Friday night in Cuernavaca with some of the family. Eric and I were both in serious need of a shower (and maybe a nap!) We apologized repeated to everyone for looking so rough, but they just kept telling us 'Hey, you're with family, it doesn't matter!'

Here we are getting ready to head to Puebla on Saturday morning. We are with Arturo and Rafa. (We were feeling so much better after a good night's sleep and a shower!)

This is in Puebla with Arturo's family. They really showed us a good time!

And this is Popo - an active volcano just outside of Puebla. It is really beautiful.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

So, um, we just got back from Mexico

Mmmmm . . . tamales (and sombreros!)

Yeah, this beats air travel!

Yeah, seriously, MEXICO. We had a direct flight booked from Sao Paulo to Chicago for Thursday night into Friday morning. We were supposed to be in Chicago at 5:00 am Friday.

It is going to take more time than I have right now to explain it all, so that will have to wait until tomorrow. But for the overview:

We stood in line no less than 5 hours in Sao Paulo.

Our flight got canceled on Thursday.

We were rerouted through Mexico.

We missed our connection due to Mexico immigration issues.

We spent the weekend in Mexico.

Our flight was delayed.

We finally arrived at our hotel in Chicago at 11:15 pm Sunday night.

It is to the consulate tomorrow morning for us and then on to Burlington. But right now, it is on to bed for a travel weary girl and her tired hubby! I promise to fill you in on all the fun details soon.

And for those of you concerned, the weekend in Mexico did not include any time in a Mexican jail. (Although the way things were going for us, we were pretty sure on Friday that we might end up there-HA!)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

As for me and my house

we will flush the toilet paper.

I try my best to be a lady and not bring up unbecoming subjects, but this is one I cannot avoid any longer! My very first trip to Belo Horizonte, Brasil was back in July. I was so excited to come check the place out and get all immersed in a new culture. About my third day here, I began to notice that every public restroom had a trashcan in each of the stalls. Now, for you ladies, you know that this is not an uncommon practice. BUT, I started noticing that the trashcans were all full of little wads of toilet paper. Now, my first thought was 'wow, these people blow their noses a lot!' On the fourth day, I became a little suspicious and I asked Eric, "Are there trashcans in the stalls of the men's bathrooms?" He hadn't noticed any, but he surveyed the situation for me on his next restroom visit. There were indeed trashcans there too: all with little wads of toilet paper. I presented him my oh-good-grief-these-people-don't-flush-their-toilet-paper! theory. He thought I was crazy at first, but the more he paid attention, the more he realized that oh-good-grief-these-people-don't-flush-their-toilet-paper! We are in a city of 5 million people and they aren't flushing toilet paper and this concerns me from a sanitary and hygiene standpoint. Especially since trash pickup works by piling the bags of trash on the sidewalks each evening and the trash truck comes around and picks them all up (and since the are a lot of people on the street going through the trash bags looking for cans and other recyclables) . . . yes, I know . . . EEEEEWWWWW!

Now this brings me to the present situation at hand. I did some research and apparently the reason for the no-flush rule on the paper is that the in home sewer lines tend to be small and paper clogs them easily. Well, now we have our own apartment. And I'm going to be real honest with you, clogging a pipe is a risk I am just going to have to take! Because as for me and my house, we WILL flush the toilet paper!

Sorry. That's been weighing on my mind for some time now and, boy, do I feel better sharing it. hehe ;)

Anyway, I believe I promised some pictures that I haven't delivered yet, so here they are: our new apartment!

Coming off the elevator on the 5th floor, here is our front door

Just inside the front door on the left, is the social bathroom (half bath)

On inside, this is on the right, it is the first part of the great room. Where the TV is sitting on the floor, will be our entertainment center and the couch we just ordered will go in front of the window on the left of the picture
Standing next to the TV now, these are built in shelves along the wall that divides the kitchen from the great room

The built ins are on my left and this is the great room area that we will use as our dining room for now. This is a table that was left here that we are using for now until our tables gets delivered in January. Going through the doorway on the left takes you into the dining room

Here is standing in that doorway looking towards the master suite and all the other bedrooms. The kitchen is just to my left
And here is standing in the kitchen doorway

And the door is to my back now as I take a peek into the kitchen

Continuing through the kitchen and to the left, you enter the laundry room, here is the maid's quarters which is off the laundry room (don't be fooled, the only way this is getting used is if Eric's maid [that would be me] sleeps in there!)
Across the laundry room, this is the maid's bathroom, again, probably won't get used too much!And here is a shot through the laundry room back towards the kitchen. The maid's quarters are on my right and bathroom on the left
If you go back through the kitchen and into the dining room, you can access all the bedrooms. Here is the first one if you go to the far right. This will be our main guest bedroom.

The next room you come to is the office. It also has a twin bed in it, but on the right is a built in desk and bookcase, so we will mostly just use it as our office.

The next doorway in the dining room is the oh-so-lovely avocado green bathroom. Someone described it as walking into a forest, um, okay. I would tend to go more with walking into a giant vat of guacamole . . mmmmm, now I'm hungry. :) This is the main guest bathroom though.

Next up is the other guest bedroom.

And, here is the last doorway in the dining room, it takes you into the master suite. There is a walk in closet on the left and the bathroom is the second door on the left.

With my back to the bathroom, here is our bedroom (yes, I was supposed to be packing my suitcase, but took a break to shoot a few photos!)

And here is a peek inside the master bathroom.

And, then standing in my bedroom door, looking through the dining room. The kitchen door is on the right and the great room is straight ahead.

Well, that's the best tour I can give in blog-land. You'll have to come down here in person to get a better one. :)

We leave in just a few hours to head towards the airport and make our way to Chicago. We hope to see lots of you soon!

Monday, December 3, 2007

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

Ahhhh yes, things are blooming, I am wearing my sundresses, Eric is enjoying the 'shorts-weather' . . . it must be getting close to Christmas! I have read that most parts of the midwest have had between 2-16 inches of snow along with some ice in the last week or so, and in Georgia, the evenings are getting cooler and leaves are falling off the trees. I have to be real honest here, I think I prefer the 'looks' of Christmas in Brasil better than the US! Like for example, this picture was taken Saturday at the CNH Engineering Department Christmas Party. As I recall, last year at the Burlington CNH Holiday Party we put the Explorer in 4 High for the drive home because there was a nice thick layer of ice forming over the snow covered roads. Do I really need to explain myself any more than that?!?

We will be leaving here Thursday to fly to Chicago and then wait it out through the holidays while the Brazilian Consulate gets our final visas all in order and ready for our return to Brasil. I am excited to see everyone, but I am really hoping for some massive global warming between now and then. My body has gotten quite accustomed to the 75-85 degree days of Belo Horizonte, and I am quite certain I will go into some sort of shock when I step off the plane in Chicago! (Everyone please start burning some styrofoam in your backyards, and, ladies, it is time to pull out that aerosol hairspray!) ;)

Last week was spent mostly trying to get the apartment all cleaned up and ready to move into, so it left little time for blogging (and little to blog about: today, I scrubbed the bathtub, oooo-ahhh-the excitement!!!) We also received our stove, fridge, washing machine, and bed last week. We got our couch, which might I say is really awesome and I can't wait to get it, ordered this weekend. So hopefully when we return we will get our table and couch delivered which will make the apartment much more livable! We had big plans to move this weekend, but after a series of events and further consideration, we decided to stay here until Wednesday and then just spend our last night there before we leave for the US. It makes things a little less complicated that way.

Between the beauty of online ordering and the shopping we've done down here, we have the majority of our Christmas shopping completed with the exception of a few people who have not given us a Christmas list or any ideas . . . I won't mention names, but you know who you are!!! ;) The fun part now is trying to get it all packed into our suitcases and somehow manage to stay under the weight limit. For some reason we have been exceptionally drawn to really heavy items this year. Which might make sense except the part where we have to get it back to the United States and then that part where we have to fly with it once again when we go to Georgia. Thank goodness for suitcases with wheels, that's all I'm saying!

My goal is to go get some more pictures of the apartment tomorrow, since it is all clean now. I will try to get them posted in the afternoon for your viewing pleasure!