Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Drama That Defines the 10 Year Old Girl

Another day of tears induced by mean fourth grade girls. I have no clue what it is all about (as it seems to mostly go down during lunch and in the girl's bathroom), but we had more tears today. Seriously, everything is just so dramatic to 10 year old girls! And I remember being 10, but I was always way more interested in my boyfriends than the silliness that the girls in my class were always involved in.

(hehehe And that reminds me of being in 4th grade when I was "going with" a 6th grader for a couple of months who was taller than my mom which made me think I was pretty hot stuff! After agreeing via friends (because you can't actually talk directly to each other, duh!) that we were indeed "going together", we exchanged Valentine's Day presents. A month or so later we slow-danced at a party one of my friends had . . . and then we hugged and held hands . . . I was pretty certain we would get married after that. See? I had a wedding to plan, so no time for silly girl games!)

Ah yes, I distinctly remember 4th grade, but I digress . . . this isn't about me as a 4th grader!

There was something major going down in the fourth grade today, and the girls were in quite the frenzy. Several notes were being passed around the class and, at first, I just tried to ignore it. But finally I called them out on it and declared I would be collecting anymore notes that were being exchanged. I guess one more just couldn't wait, and so I got a little glimpse into the fourth grade girl's mind via a very important note.

To set the scene for you, it was written in Portuguese with green glittery ink. It had lots of hearts and bubble letters and "BFF" scattered all over it. Here it the translated copy (with the names changed, of course.):

I know that you don't want to be my friend anymore. In my heart you still are a great friend that I like a lot. You were only supportive and I would like to apologize, but I know that I was an idiot. You are equal to Sara and to Molly to me!

Apparently, Sara and Molly are also up there in BFF (that would be "Best Friend Forever") status!

Later on there was a huge commotion as one of the boys declared he had found something in the recycling box: it was another girl-letter that had been passed earlier and wadded up and tossed away. The boys all tried to run over and read it, and the girls all squealed as they exclaimed, "Miss Emily!!!! The boys are trying to read our letters about girls stuff!!! Please, you have to stop them!" I took away the letter and made everyone sit back down. And then I explained that ol' "if you don't want people to find out about something, don't write it down" thing. And for goodness sakes, we wouldn't want the boys to know who our BFF this week is, now do we?

And the sad thing is, it will be after high-school before all the girl-foolishness ends! Nope, I totally have no desire to go back and relive childhood. Marriage and money and foreign countries are much easier to manage and a lot less stressful than 10 year old girls . . . seriously!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Oh, Kids!

Yesterday's substitute teaching job was postponed until today since the fourth grade teacher's schedule changed on her. So anyway, I spent today with 12 fourth graders and had a blast. So, I know it is probably one of those "you had to be there" things, but some of the moments were so humorous to me I wanted to write them down before I forgot!

* I was on playground duty after lunch and watching a mixed group of kids from kindergarten through fourth grade. One of the kids came up to the other teacher on duty to tell her that one of the kindergarten boys had put his hands around another kid's throat in a choking-like manner. The teacher called the little rascal over and asked what happened. He looked up at her and matter-of-factly stated that, "He said that Galo didn't win . . . and I got mad . . . and so I did this," putting his hands around his own neck and sticking his tongue out and making a face as if choking. (Remember, Galo is one of the two professional soccer teams in town.) It took everything I had not to giggle - a lot. He said it as if surely she would understand why he needed to do this. Apparently the soccer rivalry starts at a very young age!

* Fourth grade girls are still just as mean as I remember. I'm not sure what the issue is, but apparently the girls in the class take turns being mad at this girl or that girl. Today one of my students came up to me crying and said she had a bad headache and wanted to call her mom to come get her. As I escorted her to the office, I learned that all the girls had been mean to her during lunch. I am pretty sure her feelings were hurt a lot more than her head, but I didn't call her out on it. I was reminded why most of my friends growing up were boys!

* During math today, I was trying to help the students understand negative numbers. I was told by about 10 of the students that I had graded their math test incorrectly and that -5 IS greater than than -3. After drawing a number line on the board, I tried to use the example of borrowing $3 dollars from someone or borrowing $5 from someone and how much further "in the hole" I was. I gave the first example, "There's something that I really want to buy, but I have $0 today. So I ask Sam if I can borrow $3 and pay him back tomorrow." Sam pipes up with, "Yeah, that's fine, but tomorrow you'll have to pay me $6." I looked at him and said "Well, I see you charge interest!" He replied, "Yep, just like how it works at the bank. I will give you $3, but it'll cost you!"

* After lunch all the kids were pretty restless. It was a struggle to keep everyone on task and paying attention during their science lesson today. One boy was really testing me, and I had already warned him several times. Finally, his chances were up, and I took away five minutes of his recess time for tomorrow. He looked at me and said, totally earnestly and nodding his head, "You know it just seemed so strange today when I had all of my recess. Tomorrow should be a much better day for me now." Well, I, for one, am so glad, since I am filling in for his teacher again tomorrow! I've got to work on my poker face though - I am pretty sure I laughed a couple times when I really shouldn't have today!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Never Read Your Own Press!

Never read your own press. I've heard celebrities claim that this is the best advice they were ever given. Despite not being at all famous or an important person whatsoever, I am still starting to think that maybe that is good advice for me too!

When I first started my blog, I decided right away not to tell any of our friends down here in Brasil about it. First off, because it is a journal of my experiences, I wanted to be able to write freely about the things I see and do and my reactions to them. Secondly, while I may try to be funny and my target audience (family and friends back home) will get it, sometimes my sense of humor is strange, my sarcasm is sometimes hard to pick up (especially in written form and when it isn't in your first language - speaking from my own experience here!), and if you know me well, then you know I write like I talk and it all makes more sense. Anyway, it just seemed better if I knew my Brasilian friends weren't reading my blog!

Since I started this thing, it has picked up a lot more readers than I ever imagined would be interested in reading about what I have to say. And there have been a good number of Brasilians living both here and abroad that started to follow my posts. At first, I was really concerned that I would be offensive with my "gringa" observations, but I have received some really helpful advice and insight from my Brasilian readers. And while they don't always share my same sentiments on all issues, I feel like most of them are at least respectful of the fact that this is my personal journal of my personal experiences! (You know, that I happen to publish openly and freely on the world wide web . . . but that's really beside the point!)

I noticed on my stat counter this weekend that I was getting more traffic from Brasilian IP addresses in the last few days. I found out that one website was linking over to my site, and I was curious how my blog address ended up there. I clicked the link and realized my thoughts and blog were a topic of controversy on a Latin American forum. (I also was slightly freaked out to see pictures of my apartment pasted up there, but I've since pretty much gotten over that part.) As I read what people were saying, I started feeling a little bit like a middle school girl who overhears her friends discussing what they love/what they hate about her. While the whole thing started off very positive by someone simply sharing something they had read about an American's first impression of apartments here, there was an equal amount of annoyance with a foreigner's criticism. Sort of a "hey if you don't like it, go home!" attitude.

I have never been too much of one to worry about what people think. Besides the basics of abiding by proper etiquette and good southern-belle protocol, I have always sort of enjoyed just doing my thing and not worrying about whether or not everyone likes it. But as I started reading (first off I was amazed at how literate I became in Portuguese when I really wanted to read it), I have to admit that my little feelings were a smidgen hurt. Comments like (just roughly translated here, not word-for-word) "they should leave and stop taking advantage of our country" and "if they want an American lifestyle, why are living in Brasil?" and "they need to learn to adapt to the culture they are living in" and "all she does is highlight and pick on our poor roads and favelas" and "why is it that she can't see that there are advantages to living here too" sort of stung a little to someone who thinks she is appreciative of the local culture, the chance to learn a new language, and the welcoming arms of the Brasilian people who have embraced her and her husband from the first day they stepped on Brasilian soil! Granted, the people who seemed to have taken the time to read through more than just one entry on my blog really stepped up in my defense, but it is always the negative stuff that sticks with you, right?

I felt like some of my comments were taken out of context, like when I talked about how tiny the apartments in our price range were in the Belvedere neighborhood (didn't they see where I was so excited to find Lourdes, the older part of town where we ended up living that had lovely spacious apartments?) Or when I wrote about how expensive some things quite common to American lifestyle were here in Belo Horizonte (didn't they see that was for comparison's sake only and didn't they notice the numerous times I've bragged about the super inexpensive manicures and fresh fruits?) I really like living here . . . don't I convey that in my writing even when I am frustrated with the police or saddened by the poverty or shocked at the cost of cars? Wouldn't a Brasilian have some culture shock moments the first time they went to the grocery store in the US and realized that 1 single lime would cost more than entire pound of limes here in Brasil!?!

And then I got over myself and said (just in my head, not out loud, I don't talk to myself normally), "Hey, they are entitled to their opinion! Just put on your big girl panties and get over it!" But then I had one of the thoughts that I have so very often as a foreigner living in a new country: if the situation were reversed and I was reading the comments a foreigner made about living in the United States, what would my reaction be? Isn't the usual American attitude something along the lines of: What, you don't like our country? Well, please don't let us stop you from going on back home! I like to think that I would have read a foreigner's account of adjusting to the US and been able to understand their frustrations and appreciate the differences they point out. But I can't really be sure of what my thoughts would have been before living in this current situation.

Living abroad changes you, changes your perspectives, and changes the way you think. (I mean, already I am thinking it is perfectly acceptable to wear bikinis in public that are better suited for a twelve year old. HA!) But seriously, I don't think there is any other experience that opens your mind more than this. Really, coming here was the best decision of my life (besides marrying my hubby, maybe!)

If you read Portuguese and you want to read what others had to say (because there is nothing wrong with reading someone else's press, right?) check it out by clicking here. I am first eluded to in post #10.

Playing Ball!

So, um, who knew we'd feel so welcome and excited to be on a soccer field with a group of people using a mixture of Portuguese, Japanese, and English? Of course, it probably had as much to do with the fact that we were playing softball as it did with our location or company, but still...

By chance, Eric happened to find out about a small group of people here in Belo Horizonte that get together and play softball on an almost weekly basis. We emailed the group's director a couple weeks ago and found out that they were playing this Sunday, so we went over with our ball gloves in hand to check it out.

We met about 20 people on a sad little poorly maintained soccer field in a slightly-sketchy part of town. It was a combination of guys and girls our age, or a little older, and then a few kids. The group consisted of all Brasilians (with several being of Japanese descent). After stepping off the distances and putting out bases, we spent the first hour and an half warming up and doing lots of drills. Then, for the last hour, we played a game against each other.

My understanding is that the group was started by some Americans that were down in BH a few years ago. They have all since returned to the US, but there is still a group of locals that come out and play and a couple people who are in charge of the group. You pay a small fee to join the group and then the team supplies all the equipment. (As baseball/softball isn't exactly a popular sport here, it would be nearly impossible to find/buy gloves, balls, bats, etc. around these parts!) We played by fast-pitch rules and several of the players were really, really good. I enjoyed having some people there though who had only played once or twice in their made me look not so terrible! ;)

Since the game is less than a Brasilian "favorite pastime", I don't think Portuguese equivalents for the terminology exists. Therefore, everyone uses a combination of English and Japanese words (since baseball is very popular in Japan too) with a tiny bit of Portuguese thrown in the mix for good measure. It took us a little bit of time to learn all the position names they were using, the word for "glove", etc. Everyone was just a whole lot of fun and we had a really great time though! Number one, we understood the game and the rules (unlike soccer) and, two, everyone was just out having fun instead of taking it all so seriously. (We've yet to find a "friendly" game of soccer! That is a very, very serious sport here and many people don't take too kindly to the gringos messing up and costing the game! hahaha Volleyball tends to be pretty intense here, as well, even when the game is just among friends.)

The two and a half hours of playing made for a great workout, especially with all the drills we ran. It was a bit intense for the first time playing softball in a couple years though . . . the muscles in my right shoulder haven't had to move quite that way in some time. I'm sort of thinking that now might be a fabulous time to go checkout a Brasilian masseuse!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Happy Easter + Happy Birthday = Happy Eric & Emily!

Well, my parents may have found their way out of this one. I suppose if there was anything that could have made me just as happy as receiving a check to pay for my new Punto, it would have been just what we got this weekend.

The way that Emily and I demolished over half a bag of tortilla chips and half a jar of salsa, you would have thought that we haven’t eaten for days. Last night we made sure to pick up a loaf of bread (just to be able to make sure the peanut butter is still good), and right now I am waiting for the grocery store to open so I can go get some sausage to go with my pancakes that we will be having this morning! Oh yes, life is great, and it was before, but man I sure did miss these fine staples of American life. Now, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the food in Brasil and they also have fantastic chocolates, and I know I can easily survive on those, but the lack of tortilla chips, salsa, peanut butter, and syrup just really are a shame. So, now the planning begins for the next trip back to the states, and this only leaves one question lingering in our mind: How many bags of tortilla chips can we fit into one suitcase???

Friday, April 25, 2008

Becoming a teacher!

Despite my contentment with my one little English class once per week, it is starting to look like I am going to be busier than that.

On Wednesday evening, I got a call from the language school to see if I would be willing to take on 2 students who both wanted private classes. They both wanted to meet on Thursday evenings at a school branch in another neighborhood. (My language school has locations in about a dozen different neighborhoods around the city.) I agreed and so last night I went to meet my students and have our first class.

The first student is a soccer player. He is 17 years old and currently plays for one of the two professional teams in town on their junior league. (I am still trying to figure out how soccer works here, but it sounds like it is a 'minor league' sort of thing.) He attends night school for half of the year and should finish up high school in December (if he passes all his classes, he says.) He aspires to play professionally and possibly in the US. He is interested in few things other than soccer, but his father is insisting that he learn English so he can play internationally. He has taken English classes in the past, but admits he never tries too hard. He was a nice enough guy, but certainly had a jock attitude about him...he should be real fun to try and motivate!

My second student of the evening is seriously going to be a joy to work with! She is around my age, completely fluent, and has an incredible vocabulary. Her goal and reason for wanting to have class with me? So she can get rid of her accent and learn how to sound more like a native speaker by using more colloquial language. Poor thing, she doesn't even realize she is going to sound like a Southerner if she learns from me, but hey, I don't think the occasional "y'all" is a bad thing! ;) Basically, she wants an hour of "free conversation" to talk about anything and everything and learn more about American culture. Our hour went by really fast last night, since it really felt more like chatting with a new friend than a class! She is going to be fun to work with!

After my classes last night I met with the branch's coordinator and she is totally great. We had a nice little chat, and she asked if she could call me to substitute for other teachers, since my schedule is generally pretty open.

And then today, I received a phone call from the American school (where I volunteer two days per week) to ask if I would consider being a substitute teacher for them. It didn't sound all bad and I really like it out there, so Monday I am filling in for the fourth grade teacher.

It is looking more and more like I am actually sort of turning into a teacher. I suppose I just need to develop a love for apples now. ;)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sorry, No Sympathy Here

Alright, for all you folks back home who think you are wowing us with your fuel prices and think you are going to get some sympathy from those of us living in the Southern'll have to look elsewhere for a sympathetic ear, my friends.

Notice the prices above. I know what you're thinking, "well those prices would be great!" But let's keep in mind this is Brasil, so those prices are in Reais per Liter. Don't worry about me making you do some math. Here, I'll do it for you (everything in US dollars with today's exchange rate of R$1.65 per US$1.00):
G Comum (common gasoline): $5.48 per gallon
A Comum (common alcohol - pure ethanol): $3.65 per gallon
The one without a label is diesel: $4.39 per gallon
Hmmm, that gasoline at $3.40 per gallon ain't sounding so bad after all, huh?
And I know your next argument, "oh, but you drive a little car with excellent fuel economy!" Well, the numbers aren't in on our new 1.4 Liter Punto yet, but with the 1.0 Liter Chevrolet Corsa we were renting, we were getting around 11 kilometers/liter when we used gasoline. Converted to standard units, that would be 26 miles/gallon. That sounds alright unless you happened to drive a 2.0 Liter Ford Escort in the United States that always got 27 - 32 miles/gallon (and then you are disappointed in an engine half the size getting worse fuel economy!)
On a side note, the economy is worse using alcohol, but Eric made an extensive spreadsheet to find at what price/fuel economy combination it was more fiscally economical to buy gasoline versus alcohol (yeah, I know, he's a nerd, huh - haha) and we've found that, at the current prices, we are much better off using alcohol.
But anyway, it all boils down to this: You ain't gonna win the who-has-to-pay-more-for-fuel- contest against us. But we'll try to be a gracious winner and not rub it in too much.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Few Updates

So, to wrap up an ongoing story and update some others...

First off, the saga of the rental car. Yes, the sad story about the R$240 that the guy responsible for the wreck damage didn't want to pay. We had last talked to the guy on Monday last week. Eric told him that we were turning in the rental car on Friday and everything needed to be resolved before then. Well, 4:00 Friday afternoon rolls around and still not a word. I was picking Eric up at 5:00 so we could get the new car and then return the rental. So, Eric decided to give the fella a call and had a native speaker beside him in case he needed backup.

The guy asked Eric if he would bring the car over to a body shop for another estimate and Eric told him, in no uncertain terms, "no". The wreck happened on March 15 and he had already had over a month to handle this. We had to return the car within the next 3 hours and there was no time for another estimate now. I guess the guy wanted to argue that it didn't seem fair to him that Eric was involved in this wreck too and he wasn't going to pay a dime on this. Eric told him that he didn't think it was too fair that when this guy's wife rear-ended us at a stoplight that we had to spend over three hours of our Saturday afternoon at the police station. The guy got quiet for a second and then tried to argue some more and Eric pulled my favorite line: "I'm sorry, my Portuguese isn't perfect and I don't understand everything you are, please talk to my friend."

After a lengthy conversation on speaker phone with Eric's co-worker, the guy finally said that he was going to call his body shop and talk to them about the damages and see if they could give him a ballpark figure on what would be a reasonable estimate. He called Eric back about 10 minutes later with not a whole lot to say other than, "I'll leave a check with my secretary. If you come by my office before 6:00 you can pick it up from her." Eric was about to argue, since he didn't have time to go by the office - he had a new car to pick up and a rental car to turn in. But our friend offered to go pick up the check for us, so it all worked out.

I figure the body shop told him the estimate sounded pretty accurate and he didn't have an argument anymore. It was still annoying that after an entire month to handle this he waited until 2 hours before we needed to have the car turned back in to actually do anything...but, I suppose all's well that ends well, right?

In English teaching news, I waited all week for the school to let me know if they wanted me to start teaching any classes. About Wednesday last week, I shot an email to the coordinator reminding her that I had done the specified class observing and was ready to teach if they needed me. About 7:30 Friday evening I got a call from the lady who does the scheduling. She said that right now they needed me to take over a class that meets on Tuesday mornings at 7:30 at the location here close to our apartment. That worked out well, except that it was Friday night and Monday was a holiday and I wouldn't be able to get into the school to pick-up the materials and prepare for class. It turned out that this is "test week", so I ended up only having to administer a test yesterday...not actually teach a lesson. That worked out well, since I hate being unprepared and wasn't looking forward to winging it on an hour long class! So for now, I just have one class, but that's fine with me for the time being.

I've committed to 2 days per week volunteering at the American school here in town. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I will take the bus over there and help out wherever they need me until early afternoon. It should help my weekdays pass a little faster.

And for those itching for some more travel blogging, well, good news may lie on the horizon! We have a couple holidays coming up in May and we are trying to get some plans firmed up soon. And, if everything works out, there may even be some international travel in our near future...I'll tell more once things are more certain. But I'm getting excited to start my packing extravaganzas again!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sights from the Public Bus

I finally did it today. For the first time since arriving in Brasil, I tried out the public transportation system. I took the bus for the first time. And it only took me, what, 6 months to do it? But, regardless, it was a bit of an experience.

Just figuring out the bus system was complicated enough. I need a map. That's all, just a map. A map that shows me the bus routes. But, I haven't come across as much yet and everyone I ask about how to figure out which bus to take just tells me I need to ask other people at the bus stop or ask the driver when a bus pulls up. Me being me, that wasn't going to be good enough. So yesterday, I made Eric go with me over to the American School so I could look at the bus stop next to it and see if it had any bus numbers listed. It did list one number, and so then I was able to come home and look up the bus schedule online (now that I had a bus line number to search by.) We made a little map ourselves by looking at the schedule and entering addresses into Google Earth. In the end it all worked out and I made it to the school and back just fine today. But the experience I had on the bus was interesting.

Maybe it was guy who sat across from me none-too-discreetly picking his nose for 10 minutes straight. Or maybe it was the really poor area that the bus went through where I saw 2 little kids who couldn't have been a day over 5 years-old digging through a mountain of garbage bags on the side of the street. Or maybe it was the gray-headed woman who sat in front of me and only had one arm - the other one had been removed and by the looks of the scars it was amputated with a dull dinner knife. Yeah, they were really horrific looking scars. Or maybe it was the one-armed lady's little boy who must have been about three years old who came up to me and jumped right into my lap with the biggest smile and big brown eyes until his mom yelled at him to get off of me and come sit with her. But, the whole thing was really kind of moving.

We live in a really nice part of town and while we do come across homeless people or kids juggling at the stoplight and asking for money on a daily basis, I really do not find myself in uncomfortable situations very often. And while I can usually be not-too-overly-grossed-out and handle some guy digging in his nose so fiercely, to see kids living in extreme poverty or to see someone who seems to lack access to decent health care, well, those things are uncomfortable in a "why do these conditions exist" and "wow, how did I end up so amazingly blessed" sort of way. And then you feel sort of guilty about being frustrated because you had to wait two months for your new car to be delivered, or being aggravated because you can't find just the right fabric for a shower curtain, or thinking that life is going to come to a complete standstill if you don't get your hands on some manila folders right now! While I fret over the little challenges in my life there are five year-olds just a few miles from here digging through trash trying to find some food, or something to play with, or something they can sell so they can buy themselves some cigarettes...I don't know what they were looking for, but I do know that never in my life have I felt the need to dig through garbage on the street.

I had really lost most of the "wow" factor that seemed to exist for me when we first came to Brasil. I don't know if I was seeing less poverty living in my little happy neighborhood or if I had just become numb to it, but today shook me back up a little. I have no great ideas on what to do to change anything or how to even help a little bit right now, but, at the very least, it made me appreciate everything that I have been so richly blessed with.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Happy Birthday Eric.....From Eric!

So who would have thought when ordering a car on February 8th, that you were actually picking out your own birthday present that was later to come on April 18th? Well, with the Brasilian generosity, that is how it went down here in Belo Horizonte. If you all remember correctly we had made our car selection based somewhat off of availability and timing. Our first choice car had a 6 month lead time, so we thought we could handle the Punto and the 1-2 month lead time it had. When placing the order, I was really hoping that the 2 months was just a worst case scenario, and they have to say that for those special circumstances. Then when my car was built the first week of April I was pretty impressed, and thought I would be getting my car in less than those 60 days. However, don't forget that you have 2 days to pay for the car after it is finally built, 2 days for the payment to get processed, 3-5 days to deliver the car 10 miles (because the Fiat plant is just down the road from the dealer that I was going through), then you must give the dealer 3-5 days to get your alarm installed, license plates, and it ready to go. So by chance of luck, I got a call on April 17th, and they told me that my car would be ready to pick up on April 18th, what a birthday present for myself! Now, I will make a special offer to family/friends living in the US, and for those who were unable to give me a birthday present this year. Not that I am being greedy or anything, but for anybody interested, I would not feel bad about picking out my own present this year. If you just want to send me a check, I will gladly accept the Fiat Punto as my birthday gift from you! (Hint, hint, Mom and Dad!!)

Anyways, for those interested, here is the brand new sports car that Emily and I will be cruising around in for the rest of our time in Brasil. (Remember that when we first thought about getting a sedan, everybody told me that was an old guys' car, so I guess due to peer pressure, and other things, here is our hip hatchback!

2008 Fiat Punto (Actually, 2008 Car of the Year!)
4 Door
5 Passenger (Depending on size)
5 Speed manual transmission
Totally loaded (For Brasil) Note, most of these are options, and they don't just give these away:
-1.4 Liter Engine (Wanted the actual sports car, 1.8L, but that was again a 6 month lead time)
-Flex fuel capability, will run on either alcohol (sugar cane alcohol in Brasil) or gasoline
-Power windows (front 2)
-Power locks
-Air conditioning
-Power steering
-Anti-lock brakes
-Front air bags
-CD player
-Bluetooth wireless capability
-Engine oil pan guard (She rides kinda low, and you never know what kind of driving conditions you will come across)
-Special metallic based paint (the color is called Laranja Spot, which we thought was a great compromise for the two of us. This car, depending on the lighting and how you look at it, will either look red or orange. Since Emily drove a red car in the US, and I had an orange one, this worked out quite well.)

For those of you who are extremely jealous of this sweet ride, I will be accepting closed bids for the next 2 years, and will gladly transport the car back to the US for the highest bidder! We know this kind of power and performance is unheard of in the states! (Borg, maybe you just want to trade straight up for the 'Stang?)

Stay tuned later for the special memories of the rental car...

A FESTA! (In the future, don't serve anything on crackers!)

Saturday was a fun-filled day of Eric and me running around trying to finish everything for our party Saturday night. I had tried to do a lot of the prep work on Friday, but there was plenty left for us to finish up on Saturday!

The party was a lot of fun. We had 23 people show up for it, and I think everyone had a good time. The highly-American-party-food we made went over real well too! I have a couple standing rules when it comes to cooking: 1. I never make Italian food for Italians and now 2. I never make Brasilian food for version will never taste like what they are expecting; I just can't compete with their Grandmas! (We served Italian shredded beef in a crockpot with mini-french rolls for sandwiches, cocktail meatballs, chicken salad with crackers, chicken salad stuffed cherry tomatoes, potato salad, bruchetta, watermelon, brownies, and 2 types of cheesecake.)

The only real problem that I didn't even see coming was with the serving of some of the food. I have mentioned before how around here holding food with your hands is a big no-no. People always use toothpicks or a fork to eat french fries and they always hold burgers in a napkin, etc. I thought I had thought through that enough: I had napkins set out next to the french rolls, toothpicks next to the meatballs, and plenty of forks and spoons for everyone. When I walked in to see one of the ladies trying to balance a cracker on a plastic spoon to get it from the tray to her plate and then try to spread chicken salad on it without touching the cracker, (while highly entertaining) I knew I had forgotten about even the most classic American finger-foods not being real big here. There was also an issue with the stuffed cherry tomatoes (after the brownie server got used to try and balance little round tomatoes from the tray to their plates, I put a pair of tongs out to pick them up with!) But other than that, everything went smoothly . . . I've been considering having some friends over for Mexican food one night, since none of them have ever had it, but I'm not sure how they would fix and eat tacos without using their hands!

Dressed and ready for our guests at 8:00 pm

The living room all set up with additional seating for the night

8:30 - Still waiting for the first guests to arrive (no one ever arrives at the stated "party time" here. Our first guests were here around 8:40 and most everyone else rolled in around 9:30.)

Marco and Regina, real good friends of ours. They were the first ones here - worried that the Americans would be expecting everyone at 8:00, they didn't want us to be waiting too long! :)

Shots with us around with other guests.

Our neighbors - one of the sweetest couples ever!

Close to midnight we brought out the birthday "cake." I wasn't sure how traditional cake would go over (the cakes here are awesome, but very different from in the US.) I opted to make a white chocolate cheesecake with oreo crust and then a smaller traditional New York Style Cheesecake. They both got lots of compliments although no one had ever had cheesecake here. (Also, important to know if you are hosting a birthday party (which we were told at the last birthday party we attended): after you bring out the cake, guests take that as their cue to leave shortly thereafter...don't bring the cake out too early!)

By around 1:15, everyone was heading out.

Marco and Regina insisted on staying and helping us clean up. I argued, but after they still insisted, well, I happily excepted the help! There were A LOT of dishes to be done! It was fun to get to spend some more time with them too. Sometime after 2:00 they left, and we crashed.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Ode to My 26 Year Old Husband

Today, April 18th my husband turns twenty-six,
Which really is great because he no longer picks
On me, his wife, the elder by four months time,
Is being older and wiser really such a crime?

I first met him a few years ago in 2005,
He was handsome, nice, and 2-stepped with me too.
When he returned to Iowa I wasn’t sure I’d survive,
Over the next 10 months we sure did accrue
Phone bills, sky miles, and a really long drive.

After some more time we both said “I do”,
And then quickly to Brasil the two of us flew.
The experience we are having is quite very rare,
Now my dear husband has a whole lot more hair.

But even now with his slightly more shaggy head,
I count my great blessings each night in my bed.
My husband is incredible and such a great guy,
I wanted to honor him with a poem, so this is why…

Late at night I sit typing when I should be asleep.
My thoughts awfully scattered and all over the place,
Maybe I should go back to bed and try counting sheep.
But now at this point it would be such a disgrace:
I cannot toss my husband’s poem in the trash heap.

So I should find a point and get to it quick
Lest my husband thinks I’m one crazy chick.
So what am I saying in the words of the poem?
Oh I don’t know, maybe I need the jeroboam.

Wait! I do know just exactly the words,
So no, this poem won’t be for the birds!
What I want to say to my dear hubby
Is that I’ll love you forever, even if you get chubby!

In the coming years, through the good and the bad,
In sickness or in health, and for rich or for poorer
Every year on your birthday, I’ll be scantily clad…
(Or at least until we’re real old, then I’m more surer
My nightgowns will all be long, flannel, and plaid.)

Well, now that I’ve left us both good and embarrassed,
Let’s move on to something else that is the rarest
Trait found in a man and and the real reason why
You’re the best hubby around, this I can’t deny!

You put up with my requests and my strange little quirks;
You are starting to understand just how my mind works.
And so now that you’re older and more wiser like me,
You’ll understand that it’s best to with your wife always agree!

Happy birthday Dear, I look forward to many more.
Somehow each and every year I grow to adore
This sweet wonderful man who now is my hub,
You’re closer to 50 than to 0, welcome to the club!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Cookie Anyone?

There's a tradition around Eric's office down here that anytime it's your birthday or some other occasion worthy of celebration, you bring in ice cream for everyone in the office. Well tomorrow is his birthday, but being the American and all, we (and by we, I mean he) thought he (he meaning I) should do something different.

We decided this would be a great opportunity to share some great American treats around the office (and again, by we, I mean he.)

So this afternoon we got to work on making treats for 40+ people (and by we, I mean I).

And so now we have 1 pan of cream cheese brownies, 56 chocolate chunk cookies, and 40 oatmeal raisin cookies.

And a whole bunch of dirty dishes.

And a cookie chef who is rather tired of hanging out in the hot, un-air-conditioned kitchen while she bakes 96 cookies 8 cookies at a time because she only has 1 cookie sheet down here (oh, okay, occasionally I got crazy and threw another 5 cookies in the toaster oven to bake at the same time.) And she really doesn't want to go back in there to wash dishes or cook supper... (do cookies make an acceptable supper for your husband? If he were 6 years old I'm sure he'd totally dig that...what about at 26?)

But seriously, I was excited to get to do some baking, and I was really happy for the first hour of the process while I was playing with the love of my life, also known as my Kitchen-Aid mixer. I absolutely love baking, but something about not having air conditioning and only having one cookie sheet to work with sort of annoyed me and took away from the thrill. If I'm going to dirty four mixing bowls, it really seems like I should have more than one cookie sheet - which is actually a pizza pan, not even a cookie sheet...why the heck didn't I pack cookie sheets when we moved down here? I think I need to lose the apron and go shopping, now. And then come home and clean up my dishes so I can forget about my hot, un-air-conditioned kitchen and so by tomorrow I will be excited again to get back in there and start making food for the birthday party we're having here on Saturday. And maybe while I'm out, I should pick up some more know, to go with my husband's supper.

Would you like to finance those bananas?

It happened again today at the grocery store. I was buying an assorted array of items I needed for the bake-fest I'm having this afternoon. And after the nice lady behind the counter told me the total, R$65 (US$38) she asked, "Um ou dois?" (One or two?) I was already in the process of handing her my debit card, and the question threw me off, just like it always does. I repeated the question back, "Um or dois???" with my usual look of extreme confusion. She repeated herself again more loudly and slowly this time, "Uuum ooouu doooiiiis?" since I guess saying the same thing over again should make it clearer . . . when all of a sudden I remembered, like I always do. She was asking if I wanted to pay the entire total right now or did I want to break up my groceries into two payments on my card: half now and the other half charged to me in a month.

I don't get asked this every time at the grocery store, so I am thinking they only give you the finance option if it is over a certain amount (maybe R$50?) But everywhere else, I am asked each and every time I make a purchase. I bought a skirt a couple months ago for R$12 (US$7.05) and they asked me if I wanted to break that up into four payments. Yeah, wow! It took a lot of getting used to, and I still don't think we are entirely used to it, because when you go clothes shopping or appliance shopping or anything, things are labeled by payments (jeans labeled 5 x R$16 or a television labeled 15 x R$78). Usually somewhere in fine print at the bottom you can find the à vista price which tells you what you'll pay if you pay it all at once. I always thought Americans were terrible about buying things they can't afford because of the readily available credit offered to anyone with a pulse, but Brasil might be running close to us in this whole "well, if I can afford the payments..." thing.

And I guess one positive thing about it is that usually when it's clothes or appliances or bananas that you are breaking up into payments, they don't charge finance fees. When buying something major (like a refrigerator) you can negotiate a lower price (usually 5-15% off) if you are willing to pay it all up front, but the price you see is the price you pay if you do finance it.

And when you look at the interest rates down here, maybe that is why so many Brasilians jump at the chance to finance something without having to pay interest or fees. Because the US dollar's value is not so marvelous right now, we considered not moving our money down here to buy our new car. We figured about the time we moved the money the value of the dollar would skyrocket and we'd risk losing a lot of money when we sell our car and move back to the US in a couple years. So anyway, we thought maybe we'd just finance the car, pay for it with Reais earned down here, and invest our US "car" dollars back in the US somewhere. Eric did some checking around on interest rates and the lowest he found on a new car was 16%! He was, obviously (if you are American), totally shocked! He showed the quote to a couple of his coworkers and they shared his shock; Although theirs was "You better check and make sure that's sounds too low!" Needless to say, we decided to take the risk on the dollar's value. And, from what I understand, mortgage rates tend to run around 20% or higher here too. On the flip side, the high interest rates work both ways . . . invest your money in Brasil and you can expect returns of 15-25% on low-moderate risk investments! (I am by no means an expert on Brasil's money markets or anything, this is all just what I've gathered from conversations with people down here!)

It sounds like, from what I hear talking to people and what I witness in the stores, a lot of people invest their money and save up to buy things like houses or land. But when given the opportunity (like, every time they enter a store), they will break lots of other things up into payments. So, if you don't have the money right now, or just don't want to spend the money right now, to pay for those jeans or that buggy full of bananas, no worries, take a few months to pay for it! (Brasilians who read, please correct me if I'm wrong here . . .)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Commemorative Penguin

There are a couple guys from the US here this week working in Belo Horizonte, and the Brasilian guy who moved to Italy the same time we arrived here is back in town this week too. Last night a whole bunch of us all went out to supper.

And then somebody found out Eric's birthday is on Friday.

So, the waiter brought out this "cake" made from cotton candy . . .

which was enjoyed by all.

And he got this ceramic commemorative penguin. (Which is fitting, given the name of the restaurant and all.)

So, I guess this officially kicks off the beginning of celebrating that ol' husband of mine getting old! (Or at least as old as me, which is good. After Friday, he has to stop telling me I'm old for about 8 months.)

Now, what the heck do you do with a commemorative penguin?!?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Car Saga Continues...

Remember March 15 when Eric and I spent our Saturday with the Polícia Militar de Minas Gerais after we were involved in a car accident? And then remember a couple weeks ago when I was excited that we would be getting our new car from the factory in a matter of days? Well, this week we should finally be receiving our car. And that means that we will be turning in the rental car on Friday. And that means that the people who rear-ended us in that accident are on a strict timeline for getting the damages paid for. And this all adds up to one big headache for Eric and me.

The only good part about that wreck (besides a great story) was that it wasn't our fault. We were quite certain on that Tuesday (March 18) we could return the rental car with the accident report and the rental company would deal with the party at fault and/or their insurance and give us a different car to drive. Turns out it ain't that easy. (You would think I would quit expecting anything here to be easy!) I guess somewhere in the 42 pages of Portuguese fine print that makes up the rental contract, it tells you that you are solely responsible for all damage to the car unless the damage is over R$2000. When Eric pulled up with the car (complete with the dented, scratched up bumper and trunk) and explained what happened, an adjuster who works right there at the local rental place (I guess this sort of thing is common) came out and gave him the damage cost: R$240 (which is US$141). They also explained that before we could turn in the car, we would have to pay this amount. So, we were responsible for getting the money from the woman who ran into us.

We were pretty excited about the super cheap repair cost. I mean, you can't even have a US body shop touch your car for $141! Eric was in a great mood when he called the lady to tell her what she owed. Her husband answered the phone, and Eric happily recounted the rental agreement discussion he had with the rental company and that the damage was only going to cost R$240! The guy on the other end was not so excited. His reply (in Portuguese, of course) was something like, "R$240? That's ridiculous! There is no way I am paying that much! Where did you take the car? How many estimates did you get? My wife's car was more banged up than yours and her repairs are only going to cost R$350!" When Eric explained that he didn't get estimates because it was not his car or his problem and that the R$240 had to be paid to the rental company, the guy exclaimed, "Well, that's absurd! I am calling them tomorrow to argue this price! I'll call you back tomorrow."

A week passes and we hear nothing back from the guy, so Eric calls him. He tells us that, oh, he's been out of town, but he will call tomorrow and get back to us. A few more days pass and we still haven't heard anything. Eric calls again. The guy says he has tried to call the number Eric gave to him, but nobody ever answers. He confirms the phone number with Eric and says he will call tomorrow. (We are starting to learn that with some people, 5 minutes = 1 hour and tomorrow = in a week, or maybe never.)

This past Saturday, we happened to be over near the rental place. We needed to extend our rental through this week, since we were still waiting on our new car. The adjuster happened to be there when we stopped by, so Eric decided to give our little buddy a call and let him talk directly to the rental car company. (You know, since he had such a hard time getting in touch with them and all.) For the next 15 minutes Eric listened to the adjuster tell the guy the same exact thing over and over again. "Well, you can get a different estimate if you want, but if you have it repaired somewhere else then Eric is without a car and the two of you will have to figure out how to handle that. And then, if the work doesn't meet our specs we will require you to pay for the additional repairs to get it fixed right. We have certain repair shops we use, and this price isn't negotiable." After hanging up, the adjuster reminded Eric that the car is in his name, and so, ultimately, when the car gets turned in, we will be responsible for the damages being paid for.

Yesterday, Eric gets a call from our friend. He tells Eric that he needs to take the car to such and such address and get an estimate on the repairs and then they can compare that to what the rental company is saying and decide what to do. That brilliant idea didn't sit too well with my husband who is ridiculously busy at work right now and has been working past 8:00 every night and who is in training workshops this week after traveling last week and whose colleague is on vacation for three weeks and who is feeling so far behind right now that he went in on Saturday to try and get some work done. So, Eric suggested a brilliant plan of his own: you know what, this isn't my problem. Your wife ran into me while I was stopped in a line of traffic at a stoplight. So, if you think you can get this problem resolved for less than R$240, then fine, but I don't have time to deal with it. The car has to be turned in on Friday and this has to be resolved before then. If you want another estimate fine, you take my rental car and get another estimate. Meanwhile, I am going to need a car. So the way I see it, you have two options: 1. bring me your car and we can trade for the day, or 2. you rent another car for me to drive while you go get these estimates. (Oh, I do love it when my husband gets all sassy (and in Portuguese no less!) Can I call him sassy? I'm not sure what you call a man when he gets all sassy. Sorry Dear if you don't like sassy...that's the best I know how to describe it!)

Anyway, I guess our buddy didn't like Eric's idea. The guy then went on to rant about how this is why you have insurance: to take care of this sort of thing! Um, okay. Good point. Since it is your fault though, wouldn't that be your insurance who needs to take care of this? The guy finally left Eric with "Well, I guess I will call my insurance company tomorrow and call you back."

So now the question that remains: Does tomorrow mean today? Or does tomorrow mean, his usual, next week (or maybe never?)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Cerveja Connoisseurs

Just to go ahead and clear the air, we don't sit around pounding beer. But, there is something about a mug full of icy draft beer that makes the steak and fries at one of our favorite restaurants in Belo Horizonte even better. We both really enjoy a glass of wine in the evening or with our supper, and the same kind of thing applies to beer. There are few things tastier than a really cold beer on a sultry day at the beach under the intense Brasilian sun.

And Brasilians love their beer. Those we know who have been to the US tell us regularly how much better the beer is in Brasil. While we do appreciate how cold they serve the cerveja here (it is not uncommon for it to be a little slushy), neither of us have been able to tell a huge difference in taste. In fact, despite everyone here having a favorite brand, they all seemed pretty much the same to us: they are, after all, all pilseners.

Last night, we had the great idea to do a side by side comparison and try to figure out the subtle differences in the Brasilian cervejas. We armed ourselves with saltines (to clear the palate...if we're going to do this, we're going to do it right!), five different beers, and five glasses so we could do a 'blind' tasting. While there are other brands too, these are some of the ones we've had most recently, so it was a good place to start the tasting. (On a side note, the Sol is actually a Mexican beer, but pretty common here too.)

The notes from the cerveja connoisseurs, if we can call ourselves that, in alphabetical order:

Antarctica: It has a medium, smooth flavor; it's nothing overly special but a good basic beer.

Bohemia: After my first taste last night, I commented to Eric that it has a really surprising smokey, fruity essence to it after tasting the others. He chuckled a little and then gave me this hey-quite-trying-to-use-fancy-terminology-and-sound-like-a-snob-and-by-the-way-this-is-beer-not-wine-or-scotch look. Then he took a sip and said, "wow, this has a really smokey, fruity essence to it." Geez, men! Anyway, we both agreed it has, by far, the most flavor and tastes a lot like a micro-brew. It would be way yummy with steak (and yes, I'm certain that's how the true connoisseurs would phrase that), but may be a bit too heavy to enjoy on a really hot day in the sun. (Although, we had never noticed the unique flavor previously.)

Itaipava: Compared to the others, this one was very, very light, and Eric thought is tasted watered down. I sort of appreciated the lightness of it and thought it was the perfect one for hot days on the beach. My favorite part is that they put a foil wrapper over the top, so you have a clean drinking surface.

Sol: This is the Mexican beer that we've had on several occasions here. When we tasted it beside the others, it had a real bitter bite to it. Again, we never noticed it in the past when we had it alone, but after our little experience last night, the Sol has left us with a bitter taste in our mouth (yes, bad pun intended.)

Skol: This is by far the 'standard' here in BH. We rarely find a restaurant or boteco (very common here: a small place, usually with tables outside on the sidewalk, that serves beer and food, major social gathering place) in town that doesn't carry Skol. In the blind tasting, it was hard to tell much difference between the Antarctica and Skol, although Eric thought the Skol had a slightly smoother taste when it first hits your tongue. It's a standard for a reason: a good basic cerveja.

So, there you have it. This is what we did last night sitting in the living room with 5 glasses and saltines spread out in front of us while we kept an eye on the Master's on TV. (Eric was really beside himself to have something other than soccer on ESPN down here!) Yes, we felt quite cultured (sort of).

Friday, April 11, 2008

Brasil's Shock Factor

Eric and I don't always agree on everything, but when it comes to construction or home improvement projects, we generally follow the same philosophy: 1. If if is worth doing, it is worth doing right, and 2. there is our way of doing it (although sometimes it takes a while to reach a consensus on what will be "our" way...we are both usually pretty opinionated on these things) or there is the wrong way. We are both especially conscientious of electricity and wiring. And that is one area that absolutely drives us both nuts on a regular basis in Brasil!

Wire nuts, junction boxes, and sometimes even light fixtures are practically non-existent. What looks like a lamp cord is used to run electricity 75 feet or more along the wet ground and 220 volts is carried along 14 gauge or smaller wire. Surely electrical codes don't exist here (or maybe, like so many other things, they are just not enforced!) And even more surprising to us than the crazy wiring is how it doesn't seem to bother anyone else around us.

I think pictures might demonstrate our concerns more than words ever could, so take a look for yourself.

When we first moved into our apartment, several rooms had this for overhead lighting. (I'm really not a bare bulb kind of girl. I love light fixtures and believe every room deserves one!)

And still, for the life of me, I can't figure out what the heck all those wires are doing up there! And further more, once we bought light fixtures, we had no idea how we were supposed to hang them...notice there is no junction box up there to hang them from!
We were short on tools and supplies anyway since it was before our shipment arrived, so we ended up just having an electrician come and hang light fixtures for us. His 'supplies' for hanging the fixtures? A wooden broom handle cut into 8 inch pieces, zip ties, and electrical tape. I had to stay in the other room; I couldn't handle watching it. And that also totally sealed the deal on no hanging of ceiling fans here!
This is in the ceiling of our guest bathroom above the pretty wooden slats. I have not idea why there is a bundle of wire right there! And see what looks like a lamp cord? Yeah, that continues on to power several overhead lights. . .
like this. Also, notice the lack of wire nuts. Only electrical tape!
So often things just look very unfinished to us!

This was how an outlet in our master bathroom was wired up. You are looking at the inside of the cabinet; the plug-in side of the outlet is on the outside of the cabinet. The wire running straight up goes on to power the light over our sink. We made some improvements on this one ourselves, since the electrician saw absolutely no problem with it.
The cord plugged in below was the cord for the mini-fridge that was 10 feet away in our icky room on Ilha Grande. We were terrified to plug it in, but we managed to without getting shocked.
All the wiring at this pousada (which was the worst we've ever been in) was run along the wall. . .
including this outlet which was dangling outside beside the door to our room.
But you can really appreciate the wide spread use of electrical tape when you see the alternative method.
Yes, that is masking tape connecting wires. Nope, not a wire nut to be found, still. I was previously unaware of the insulating qualities of masking tape.
This was how electricity was run in one very poor area we drove through just outside of Belo Horizonte.

I'm pretty certain it is not being metered anywhere. Especially when I saw how someone had spliced this mess into a much more official looking power line. (You know, one that wasn't run with household light duty extension cords.) The picture I tried to take of the splice point didn't actually turn out, unfortunately. I wonder how many people get seriously shocked trying to do that sort of thing though!
And I think we've all been taught electricity and water don't mix, right? So now you know why I wasn't comfortable taking a shower in our master bathroom until this was resolved! (Oh and by the way, we put the volt meter on this . . . you are looking at 220 volts. For those who don't know, 220 volts is what runs electric dryers and stoves in the USA, as compared to the 110 volts that normally powers most outlets and lights. Yeah, YIKES!)

(And to explain what is going on with those wires: it is very common here not to have water heater tanks. Normally, water is heated electrically in a special shower head. We are lucky enough to have solar-heated hot water in our apartment with a gas water heater as a back-up when it is really cloudy. While I feel plenty safe with the electrical shower heads, having two bare, live, 220 volt wires that close to my naked, wet body makes me a tad nervous!)
Speaking of electricity and I the only one who worries about sitting in a bathtub full of water and then touching this switch to turn on the jets . . . especially after the wiring we've been seeing?

And just for fun, here was a most interesting plumbing job Eric came across in a restaurant restroom. You can't quite tell it from the photo, but that flexible pipe extends out about 12 inches in front of the toilet's tank.

Oh, how I do love Brasil and its people! Some of the wiring makes me totally nervous though! (And makes me want to go have a caipirinha and not think about it.)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Happiness Is...Manila Folders

I've had a serious case of the 'blahs' the last few days. I think it was partially missing my husband while he was traveling this week, partially just being tired from traveling every weekend, but, mostly, I think is was the two months of my desk looking like this finally really, really getting to me.

I will be the very first to admit that I have a problem. I am a complete file freak. I don't know what it is, but I need filing space and organized files sort of like I need air. While I think I am a basically organized and tidy person, I wouldn't call myself a neat freak really. But when it comes to papers, I need to have them in a highly organized filing system or else I develop a nervous twitch. I think I've always been this way too. When I was eight years old, I convinced my mom to buy me a 2 drawer filing cabinet with hanging files so that I could organize all the really important things in my little eight year old life (like every letter I'd ever received from long distance friends, reports I wrote for school, you know, highly important matters that certainly need to be in a filing cabinet, right?)
Anyway, back in February we started a search for a filing system for our home office. I am sort of picky about these things, and my husband likes to impose budget limits on this sort of venture, so it took a while to find something that I could work with. I was rather fond of the 8 cabinet built-in model that I could have had installed. But anyway, I finally found a plastic container that holds hanging files and then a mini metal rack filing system to supplement it. The bigger problem was that I was completely unable to find manila folders.
A more sane person might be able to, as my husband suggested, just file things away directly into the hanging files. But just the thought of it sent me into mild convulsions. Seriously, I needed manila folders to be able to properly organize my files. Hanging folders are for general subjects, the manila folders are what actually bring the organization to life!
I knew that a blog-world friend of mine was coming down to Brasil this month to visit her in-laws and attend a wedding. I hated to ask a favor of someone I'd never actually met, but we were about to have a serious situation on our hands here at home, so I shot her an email explaining my situation and begging her to bring me manila folders. I was actually surprised when, instead of blocking my IP address from ever being able to view her blog again on account of my freakish-nature, she actually told me that she too has a file/organization issue and she couldn't imagine life without manila folders, and oh, she would be happy to bring some down, and what did I want: neon-colored, the normal manila color, or normal manila color with colored tabs, a three-tab system or something different, and did I need any labels? Oh, bless this marvelous woman! I received her package yesterday and could hardly contain myself! This afternoon I went to work putting together my files.
And this is what I ended up with:

I really like the combination of my black plastic container, black hanging files, and then the "pop" of the colored files intermingled with the manila colored ones. My life is better because of these files.
And this little mini guy is so perfect for the bulky things like appliances/electronics owner's manuals, checkbooks, etc. I actually got it set up a few weeks ago since it didn't really have to have manila folders.
But they aren't actually going to stay on my big table there in the office. They will be living in this little cubby.
Which totally frees up my great big office table for fun things like spreading out paperwork while working, (gee, that would have been nice two weeks ago as I did our taxes!) or, even better, as my craft table! (The CPU won't actually be staying there; it is just hanging out until it gets repaired. But, that's another story for another time.)

And the opposite office wall is where my built-in desk and shelves are located.

I think I am really going to sleep much better tonight now that I finally have my files in order. Phew!!! Such a relief! Thank you, thank you, thank you to Laural for bringing me out of the 'blahs' today! (Eric thanks you too, since now he is coming home tonight to a very happy wife!)