Friday, February 29, 2008

Hmm, didn't see that one coming!

"So I have good news and bad news. The good news is we get to eat a whole apple pie, the bad news of course explains itself :("

This was part of the email I got from Eric this morning.

I did have some reservations about hosting my "American" dinner party tonight. You know, normal concerns like "what if they hate the food?" and that sort of thing. But what actually happened, well, I definitely didn't see that one coming!

Eric was in a meeting in a neighboring town for most of the day yesterday. When he returned to the office late in the afternoon, he heard the news. One of the guys we had invited over was fired earlier in the day. My first concern was for him and his family (he has three kids). After that though, I thought, "wow, well that could make for an awkward dinner party!"

Upon getting to work this morning, Eric talked with the other guy who was supposed to be coming tonight. He had called the other one last night and they decided it may be best to postpone our dinner.

So I guess it's apple pie for me for lunch today! And you know I hate that! ;)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Culture Goes Both Ways!

So we've been trying to immerse ourselves in plenty of Brasilian culture over the course of the last few months. (And by "culture" I guess I am mostly referring to the food, because, oh buddy, it is good!) But, we thought we'd turn the table for a night and introduce some friends to a little American culture now!
Tomorrow night we have two of Eric's co-workers and their families coming over for supper - American style! There will be nine of us total, and last night Eric and I finalized the menu:
Baked Chicken Breast drenched in homemade BBQ Sauce
Green Beans cooked with bacon
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Garden Salad (complete with salad dressing-not olive oil as is usually the standard here)
Angel Biscuits
Apple Pie with Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream (because what's more American than that?!)
Frozen Angel Toffee Dessert
I am on a personal mission to convince the people here that Americans don't eat hamburgers, french fries, and pizza everyday! Well, okay I know some Americans do, but the mass majority of us actually have some variety in our diets! (I observed my first ESL class this week. It was a "conversation class" that had four 13-14 year olds enrolled. This week's lesson was on food. I had a hard time convincing the kids that I actually ate vegetables and fruit even when I lived in the US!)
Anyway, I figured that I'd better start the cooking this afternoon unless I wanted to spend all day tomorrow in the kitchen. So, I went ahead and made the mac and cheese (will just bake it tomorrow), the apple pie, and the angel food cake that I need for the frozen dessert. I thought that after making only 3 dishes I could pretty well illustrate what I mean when I say that I create a lot of dirty dishes when I cook!
The DamageThe Goods
I also realized today that I should have just gone ahead and moved everything except the big appliances from my kitchen when we moved. I thought, "Oh, I won't need my tube pan for anything!" And now we know why I am attempting to make angel food cake in loaf pans! I also thought, "Oh, I won't need my fluted pan," and now I have 12 egg yolks left over from making the angel food cake and I am just going to have to make a pound cake to toss in the freezer and here I am once again without the proper equipment. And I thought, "Oh, I won't need all my mixing bowls down in Brasil." But, alas, I do!
So tomorrow I'll finish off the meal and get ready to entertain our guests! YEA! I do love a good dinner party! :)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

10 Luxuries We Can't Afford

Or maybe a better title would be: 10 things that are way more expensive than they should be, and we just can't bring ourselves to pay that much. (Prices are in US dollars with today's exchange rate of (ugh!) 1.68 Brasilian Reais to 1 US dollar.)

1. Flour Tortillas: In the rare supermarket where you can actually find tortillas, they run you $10.78 for a pack of 8 soft taco size tortillas. On the up side, I have just about mastered homemade flour tortillas, but the next time my flight gets rerouted through Mexico I must buy a tortilla press. It is a slow process when you have to roll each one out by hand!

2. A Dishwasher: I swore long, long ago that I would never, ever, under any circumstances live without a dishwasher. Of course, that was before I knew I was moving to Brasil and before I knew that a USA comparable dishwasher costs $1,487. (And do you have any idea how many dishes I dirty preparing just one meal? It's quite ridiculous actually...especially when I am making my own salsa, tortillas, taco seasoning, etc.)

3. Good Peanut Butter: Good ol' JIF or Peter Pan is rarely available here, but when it is you are going to pay over $13 for a 12 ounce jar of it. There is one cheaper domestic brand of peanut butter, but it is really a shame to even call it such. It's not so great. I debated getting all pioneer like and making my own peanut butter, but then I'd have to find raw peanuts which are also not so readily available.

4. Syrup: We have this really awesome Professional Belgium Waffle Maker we got for our wedding. We love making waffles for breakfast on the weekends. We hate that we don't have syrup to put on them. A small bottle of maple syrup is going to run you $20.80. (Granted, it is the real stuff and not that sugary imitation crap my husband loves, but still!)

5. A Ford Fusion: A Ford Fusion starts out at $49,773. Compare that to the starting price of $18,010 in the USA! Yes, we will be sticking with our little Fiat Punto (which BTW, we just found out is scheduled to be delivered from the factory on March 18!)

6. Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup: Are you ready for this? A can of condensed cream of mushroom soup costs $5.35. And that's not those big cans either, just the little normal ones. Do you know how many of my casseroles (I am, after all, a good Southern girl, and so you know I gotta have a gazillion casseroles in my arsenal!) include cream of mushroom soup as an ingredient?

7. M&M's: This one is really painful for a girl who loves her chocolate. I saw a small bag (like they would have enticing you in the checkout line in the US) for $4.17.

8. Decent Sheets: Seriously, thank goodness I brought the snazzy new sheet sets I got as wedding gifts. You can find inexpensive sheets here, but they must have a thread count of like 25 or something. They look more like cheesecloth than bedsheets, and I am not exaggerating. I came across decent sheets with a thread count of 250, so nothing real special, but a queen set was going to run me $119. I am fine with paying more for good sheets...but 250 t.c. doesn't qualify as good!

9. Nike's: On our very first flight down here, there was a big group of teenagers returning from a trip to the US. We immediately noticed that every single kid was wearing a brand new pair of Nike's. Once we got here, we realized why. So before moving here, I bought a pair of Nike running shoes in Iowa on sale for $39.99. The same pair of shoes here cost $154.00. (Of course there is that guy on the corner that always has Nike's for sale at a great price on the roof of his parked car...but Eric has a misfortune story of getting this wonderful deal on a pair of Nike basketball shoes when he was down in Mexico as a kid. About his fourth basketball practice back in the US, the Nike "check" fell off as he was running down the court. He thought would just ignore the lost article, but then someone picked it up off the court floor and said, "um, I think this came off your shoe." I can only imagine how much he got picked on for that one as a 13 year old!)

10. Anything made from cheap plastic: Think of the cheap junk you can buy at the Dollar Tree in the US: small plastic trash cans, a plastic mixing bowl, a plastic pitcher. Well, here you're going to pay a heck of a lot more than $1 and usually you are better off financially to buy glass. Much, much cheaper than anything plastic!

Now, granted, we can also go out and stuff ourselves on a nice big filet mignon supper complete with sides and a couple beverages each and pay $23 total. Or, we can both eat lunch at a cheap buffet for total of $4.90. Or, I can come home from the fruit market loaded down with all the bags of fresh fruits and vegetables that I can possibly carry the two blocks back home for less than $12. So I am not totally complaining here, just making a few observations. (Well, I am complaining about the dishwasher, but other than that...)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The 6 Best Months Of My Life

So what could be better than your husband bringing you flowers for your six month wedding anniversary?

When he shows up with champagne too!

Ah, yes, I do love this man! Yesterday marked half a year of happy matrimony for us. And we both agree they've been the best six months of our lives! Maybe it has something to do with being crazy in love, maybe it is living in the tropical paradise of Brasil, maybe it is each of us being married to our best friend, or maybe it has to do with the champagne. ;) But, whatever it is, we are loving it! It sort of feels like we've been married way longer than 6 months, but it also seems like just yesterday I was walking down the aisle feeling all princess-like with my eyes focused on nothing other than this incredible man I was about to share the rest of my life with.
So today seems like an appropriate time for a recap of the Story of Us:
July 17, 2005 - We met at an agricultural engineering convention down in Tampa, Florida
July 18, 2005 - I noticed Eric (give me a break, there were 250+ guys and only about 12 girls, okay?)
July 20, 2005 - He returned to his job in Iowa, I returned to finish school in Georgia
August - May - Lots of trips between Iowa and Georgia along with a couple weekends in Kentucky (the mid-point) along with a whole lot more phone calls and emails
May 27, 2006 - I got a job and moved to Fort Madison, Iowa (18 miles from my sweetie!)
April 12, 2007 - Eric was offered the position in Brasil (the catch: must move this fall!)
April 14, 2007 - We go for an overnight trip to St Louis that I planned to celebrate his birthday. On the ride down, I unload my mind and tell him how excited I am for him about the Brasil opportunity. However, while I don't want him to marry me a day earlier than he wants to, there is no way I can move to another country without us being married. I tell him I plan to move back to Georgia when he goes to Brasil and will be happy to join him in Brasil if at some point he wants to get married. His response: complete silence and turning up the A/C, since he was pouring sweat now. (He swears I was the most pitiful little thing telling him all that and it took everything he had not to pull over and propose to me on the side of the road!) About 8 hours later, he proposes to me, just as he had been planning to do for 2 months (even before he knew about the Brasil opportunity!)
August 25, 2007 - Our wedding! Followed by a week in Jamaica.
October 6, 2007 - We move (temporarily) to Brasil
January 2, 2008 - After spending most of December back in the US to finalize our visas, we return to Brasil to the apartment we picked out in the fall.
February 25, 2007 - We celebrate 6 married months and all the adventures we've had since meeting two and a half years ago!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Our Apartment, Now Looking a Little More Lived-In

Well, it's been a while since December when I posted some pictures of the apartment. We've gotten a lot more furniture and our shipment of personal goods from the US since then. And now the place is looking a little more lived in. My grandparents requested some updated pictures, so here you go.

Just inside our front door to the left, this is the half-bath.

With the door to my back, here is a straight shot into the great room. The living area is on my right.
Here's a shot looking into the living area of the great room. (Please ignore the fact that my houseplants are still in black plastic containers...I do intend to put them in nice planters, I just haven't found 'just the right ones' yet.)
And standing in the living area looking back at the built in shelves. The dining room table is to the right.
A little closer view of our beloved marble-topped table and the chairs we finally decided on.
Standing in the corner and looking back towards the front door (in the shadows on the right.)
Just to my right from the picture above, here is looking into the 'official' dining room that we aren't really using right now. The 3 bedrooms, the office, the guest bathroom, and the kitchen all have entrances from this room.
Coming around the corner and looking left, you have the kitchen. Looking into the kitchen

The kitchen is sort of L-shaped, so here I am standing in the doorway of the laundry room looking back into the kitchen.
And here my back is to the 'service entrance' (back door) and looking at the laundry room. (The maid's quarters are on my right and maid's bathroom on my left. You'll have to look at the old post to see those-they really haven't changed any given that I am the only maid around here!)
If you go back into the dining room, this is the first room on the far right. It is our main guest bedroom. (We promise to have a mattress on the bed frame before we receive any house guests!)

The next room is used as a home office. It still needs some organization, as I haven't been able to find folders for my filing yet. (That sort of thing is a real problem here for us. It seems like people here tend to just get by with whatever they have and don't find it nearly as necessary to have specialty equipment/supplies. Some things, like manila folders, I just can't do without.) So for now, my "files" are in separate piles on the table and driving me absolutely nuts!
A different view in the office of the built in desk and shelves. It's not really the perfect set-up for a computer desk, but it works out well enough.
The next room is the oh-so-green guest bathroom. (Which for some unknown reason has much better water pressure than our master bath, so we tend to take our showers in here while we don't have company.)

Here is the second guest bedroom. (We moved the twin bed that was in the office into this room.)
And here is looking into the master suite from the dining room.

The master bathroom is right behind me in this shot.

And a little peak into the master bath.
And now for a couple of our views. This is the view on the North side of the apartment from our living room windows. The building in the middle is the edge of Minas Tênis Clube that takes up 2 complete city blocks. (The building you can see houses the tennis courts, some of the basketball courts, volleyball courts, a couple indoor pools, etc.)
All of the bedrooms and the office are on the West side of the apartment and have windows looking out onto this street. Here is the view to the South.

And here is the view to the North.
And there you have it, the updated version of the photo tour! We still have plenty we need/want to do: hang pictures, paint, organize the office, buy a mattress for the guest bed, get stuff planted in the window boxes, etc. . . But it is quite livable now and we are enjoying it! It really is starting to feel like home to us!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

And now I'm becoming sooo cliché

What is the one profession all Americans fall into when they move abroad? Oh yes, you know the answer: English Teacher.

When we first moved down here everyone asked me, "Oh, what will you do, teach English?"

Um, NO! Number one, I am not a teacher. My degree is in environmental science, not education. Number two, I have no real experience teaching English as a second language. (The fact that I worked with some people who spoke only Spanish and I taught them a few numbers and some names of plants, doesn't really qualify.) Number three, I am retired. (Okay, so that third one is sort of true, but my early retirement after putting in 14 long months working for the state of Iowa is probably more like a hiatus than actual retirement. I like the sound of retired at 25 just sounds nice, doesn't it?) Oh, and then there is the all important number four, I do not have a work permit issued by the government down here, and, for obvious reasons (read a few entries about my personal paradise that I am living in), I would prefer not to get deported!

So last week when my Portuguese tutor asked me if I had ever thought about teaching English, I brushed it off and had a few reasons why I should not be an English teacher. But she has insisted that there is a real need for more English teachers here right now, the work permit issue could be "handled", and she thought it would be something I would excel at. She encouraged me to call her coordinator and at least talk to her. Well, yesterday I made the phone call, today I had an interview, and tomorrow I go in as a trainee.

No money is going to be exchanged in the immediate future, but the owner of the language school wants to take me on as a little project. She wants me to sit in on some English classes and learn the school's teaching theories and strategies. Then, she wants me to attend some Portuguese classes (free of charge) to advance my proficiency in that department. And then, if both parties so desire, I will start getting some classes of my own to teach.

It actually is a pretty nice set-up for me. I get to work on my Portuguese, I can learn a few things about teaching foreign language, and it will get me out of the house and meeting new people. And, truth be told, if it all were to work out, I think I would enjoy teaching. It was one of the gazillion things I considered majoring in and maybe I've always had a calling for it. (As a young kid, I regularly made extensive lesson plans, created special worksheets, and held "school" with my two younger brothers. I taught them everything from spelling to multiplication to special trampoline lessons where I made up names for all kinds of tricks and had them almost break their necks as they attempted them. My mother took issue with my methodologies though (and not just the attempted neck-breakings.) For example, when I was 8, I decided Nathan, who was 4, needed to learn his times tables. He did well with them, but Mom insisted that the kid needed to learn to add before I made him memorize multiplication tables so he actually would understand multiplication. Ugh, details, details...I was just excited to show off to my friends how smart I had made the 4 year old. And all the other 8 year olds were incredibly impressed!)

We'll see what happens, but tomorrow I go in for a school wide teachers meeting to get introduced to everyone and figure out which classes I want to start attending. It is something new to look forward to and I am pretty excited about it, even if the whole thing is awfully cliché!

Oh, and for a couple interesting moments from my day:

This first one was an "I'm not in the USA anymore" moment. During my interview with the language school owner, she was explaining how she thought I had a lot to offer the school and how with my outgoing personality and willingness to learn, I could be a very successful language teacher. She then went on to add that, "you are young and attractive and that is going to help you a lot. Really, you will find that it is very important in Brasil to be beautiful." Wow, can you imagine sitting in an interview in the US and being told that? I mean, I can take and appreciate a compliment, but I think that would count as really, really not P.C. back home!

Also, important to note if in Brasil: don't think that just because you buy a Diet Coke you can take it with you. On my walk back home from my interview, I stopped to purchase a drink. I noticed the store had Diet Coke in glass bottles, which really excited me. For some reason it always tastes so much better when you are drinking it out of the glass bottle. So I paid for my drink, declined the plastic cup the guy offered me (since, remember, I prefer it out of the bottle), and continued on my walk home. I heard someone yelling behind me, but I ignored it and kept walking. I made it about a block before a very out-of-breath young girl came running up behind me with a plastic cup insisting that I pour my drink into it. She then explained to me that you are not allowed to take the bottle. Seriously, I would have been happy to pay an extra ten cents, or whatever the deposit is, to have been able to enjoy my drink from the just wasn't the same from the cup!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

It's Official,

I don't blend in here. In fact, I obviously stand out a lot!

And just when I was thinking I was doing good too...

I have been real encouraged lately because my Portuguese is coming along pretty well, and I am getting confident enough in my grammar that I am speaking a lot more. The last couple days I have been spending time with my neighbor across the hall who is a very sweet lady and doesn't speak a word of English. It was a big day for me yesterday when she invited me over for afternoon coffee and cake and we visited for well over an hour. Just the two of us, just Portuguese!

She and her husband are also members of Minas Tênis Clube, and she asked if I wanted to go over there with her to workout today. So this morning we went and spent a couple hours at the clube. They have one pool that is solely for people to walk in for low-impact exercise. While we waited for some machines to open up in the gym, we decided to walk a while in the pool.

We were walking and talking when this older guy stopped us. He looked at me and said to me (in Portuguese) something to the effect of, "I know you! You were in São João Del Rei for Carnaval! I couldn't forget a tall blonde. That was you, right?" Holy cow, there went the anonymousness I was enjoying living in a city of 5 million people! How the heck does that happen? I visit a town three hours away with well over 100,000 people crowding the streets, I return to my home city of 5 million occupants, and three weeks later some random guy sees me at the club next to my apartment and remembers me!

I speak Brasilian Portuguese, I buy Brasilian clothes, I wear a Brasilian swimsuit, I get a Brasilian tan, I eat Brasilian food, I hang out with Brasilians, and I still stand out as so NOT Brasilian that I become memorable. We really should have moved to a city with more foreigners! (Or maybe I need to dye my roots dark so I look like all the other 'blondes' in this town.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Little Too Friendly?

Eric came home last night with a story that cracked me up. Maybe it is funnier when he is telling the story in person (complete with impressions of all the characters), but I thought I'd try to share it anyway.

He worked a little later than usual and wound up not leaving the office until almost 8:00 last night. The car's fuel gauge was on empty, so he decided to stop at the gas station near his office that has much cheaper alcohol (most all the cars down here are flex fuel: they can run on gasoline or alcohol.) He pulled up to the pump, got out of the car, and asked the attendant to please fill it up with alcohol.

[I should insert a couple side notes now.

1. You never pump your own gas here. There are always a half dozen or more young guys employed by the station to pump your gas, clean your windshield, check your oil, put air in your tires, and anything else you could possibly need done. A little strange to get used to at first, but it is nice to be able to fill up with gas and not smell like it!

2. Eric and I always give ourselves away as foreigners when dealing with Brasilians. Whether we speak perfect Portuguese with a perfect accent or not, they know we are not Brasilians. Mostly, it is because we don't talk nearly as much for no reason. A typical Brasilian walks into a restaurant and has a five minute conversation with the host/hostess before ever getting to the part where you tell them you need a table for 4, non-smoking (and I am not exaggerating here!) Before we understood Portuguese well, we could never figure out what the heck took so long to get seated! Now we know they must first discuss the weather, how the food is, whether or not it is busy tonight, if there is anything special the host suggests, etc.]

So, when Eric hopped out of the car and didn't preface his fuel request with an unrelated conversation, the attendant immediately knew he was a gringo. As he began pumping the gas, he asked Eric where he lived. Eric responded, "Belo Horizonte." The guy acknowledged that maybe Eric lived here, but he wanted to know where he was originally from. Eric told him he was an American. The attendant then proceeded to call over another guy who appeared to be a manager and told him that Eric was an American. The manager, whose breath reeked of cachaça, went on to have a half English/half Portuguese conversation with Eric about how he has a friend living in Boston. After the manager walked away, the attendant called over a couple other guys working there and proudly showed off the real live American. (Belo Horizonte doesn't get many American visitors.)

By this point the car was filled up, Eric was ready to pay, but the attendant was still busy talking to him. So Eric handed the guy his credit card and the attendant proceeded to read Eric's entire name aloud, trying to pronounce it all in perfect English. Finally, Eric was able to talk the guy into just running the card and moving on with the process. (Since it was now well after 8:00 at night!) After the guy ran the card, Eric was ready to leave. Then, with one last chance, the friendly attendant had to practice all of his english, and say "goodbye" and "please return" in any broken english he could put together. <--here's where you really need Eric's impression!

Then as Eric was just about to shut the door and finally get away, the manager came over to him and said, "Oi! Você sabe ele é gay?" (I don't think I have to translate this one for you!) Turning his head, so he didn't have to smell the liquor breath, Eric laughed, figuring the drunk guy was messing with him, and told him 'whatever'. Then the manager, not wanting to sound like a liar, turned to two other attendants standing nearby and pointed to the original attendant, made a hand gesture indicating gay, and the other two guys nodded their heads and laughed. Holding up his left hand, Eric pointed to his ring, and blurted out, "Desculpe, eu sou casado!" (Okay, I'll translate "Sorry, I am married!") At this point the manager was also enjoying talking and joking with this "unique" american, and invited Eric to stay, hang out, and have a drink. Eric then kindly thanked him, but said no thank you, and made a speedy getaway!

Moral of the story: Yes, Brasilians are very friendly. Sometimes though, maybe a little too friendly! ;)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Ipanema Beach: SPF 50 Required

First off, the sad part of the story: I was going to be smart. I decided to take our 2 year old digital camera instead of the brand new one. This way, if it were to get stolen, we wouldn't be out so much. On Sunday, we took the camera down to the beach to start taking pictures before we left town. After the second picture, the rechargeable batteries (which I charged on Friday) decided to quit holding a charge. We purchased some other AA's from a news stand near the beach, but the camera didn't like those ones and refused to power on. So, not much for pictures...

Other than that, we had a great trip! We took off driving Friday about 6:00 pm from Belo Horizonte. We decided to stop and spend the night in Petrópolis (the town just before Rio) so we could enter into the city with the safety of daylight. Unfortunately, we saw nowhere to stop for the night, so we ended up staying at the first decent looking motel on the very edge of Rio de Janeiro. We got there about 11:00 Friday night. (Maybe later this week I'll go into the differences between hotels and motels here...quite interesting!)

Saturday we got up and headed out at about 9:00 am. We checked into Hotel Vermont in Ipanema at 10:00 and immediately walked the 2 blocks down to the beach. And oh, what a beautiful sight it was: powdery sand, clear blue-green water, and a backdrop of mountains and blue skies. I borrowed the picture below from Wikipedia, since we were unable to get any of the beach.
It was a busy weekend at the beach, but the crowd didn't bother us a bit. We staked out a prime location right near the water so we'd have a good view of the water, waves, and beach walkers, and rented 2 chairs and an umbrella all for R$9 (US$5.15) for the entire day. Vendors were constantly walking along offering everything from sunscreen, bikinis and beach sheets (towels are not acceptable in Ipanema (maybe all of Rio?)-you must have a beach sheet) to coca-cola, beer, water, juice, tea from a big metal keg, biscoitos, skewers of fresh shrimp, and my favorite: cheese on a stick that they grill for you on these little portable grills they are walking around with. Forget packing a cooler to take to the beach with you here; it's much easier and just about as cheap to purchase anything you need from the comfort of your lounge chair.

The waves were great (5+ feet surges that rolled into perfect barrels before crashing down) and there was a super strong undertow. We had tons of fun and got a great workout jumping through and riding the waves and fighting for our life when we got rolled by a big one! We walked up and down the beach and spent some time just laying out people watching and catching a few rays.

We discovered the secret to an enjoyable time: SPF 50! I can't even begin to describe how many people we saw that were completely fried from the sun. Even some of the bronze Brasilians were turning a deep shade of reddish-purple from the intense UV rays. Everyone down on the beach was constantly slathering on sunscreen (including the obvious sun worshipers who were a gazillion times darker than us). We found that a sweatproof/waterproof SPF 50 would last half the day before needing to reapply. And, we still got tons of sun and the tan lines to prove it! It is amazing how strong the sun is here, but when you consider that we are closer to the equator than even Miami, I guess it does make sense.

After spending all day Saturday at the beach we got cleaned up and went out to supper at a restaurant called Garota de Ipanema (remember the song, "The Girl from Ipanema"?) Sunday we spent the morning back down on the beach and then drove to some neighboring beaches for the afternoon (stopping at Barra Beach for a late lunch before hitting the road at 3:30 to head home.) We wanted to go check out Copacabana, but there was some big show going on and the traffic was ridiculous going that way. We considered checking out some other sights, but decided just to do the beach this trip. With it being only a 5.5 hour drive for us, there will be many more trips to come!

We got back home about 9:00 last night and immediately crashed after showers. We were exhausted and it felt good to be back in our own comfortable bed. (The hotels that we've encountered here don't worry about putting great matresses in their rooms. They border on terrible actually. Our pillow top matress with featherbed felt really great to sore tired muscles last night!)

Looking down the palm tree lined main drag along the beach at Ipanema

Us all "dressed down" as instructed by our friends here. "Don't wear any jewelry-at all! Don't carry a wallet, just a little cash in each pocket." (Notice the cheap sunglasses even!)

Everyone was worried about us going to Rio alone and ending up lost in some favela and everything we own stolen from us. We actually felt really safe the whole time we were there, but it was nice not to be worried about my diamond ring, or Eric concerned about having his wallet snatched or anything else. We saw plenty of favelas, and we know crime is a very present issue in Rio, but I don't think Ipanema attracts the hardcore criminals. The worst we came across was one kid who asked for money and another who wanted the ice cream cones we were eating. Neither was successful with us (although it did make me feel a tiny bit guilty for eating ice cream in front of the poor street kid. But the germs! I couldn't let him eat after throat was a little scratchy...maybe I was coming down with cruel would it be to pass this on to some kid who didn't have health care?!? Ah, yes, I do love rationalization...and ice cream.)

Friday, February 15, 2008

My Super Sweet Valentine

Have I mentioned lately that I married the greatest guy on earth? Luckily I am unbiased too, so I can say this with some certainty! ;)

He is so awesome with making plans and surprising me for holidays! Yesterday morning neither of us said a word about Valentine's Day. I was planning to surprise him with a big supper of some of his favorite foods and he was planning to surprise me (one of these days we'll learn just how dangerous it is because we have this tendency to plan surprises at the same time-holiday or not.) Just before I left yesterday morning to go to the grocery store, I received an email from him telling me not to cook supper and to be ready to go out when he got home. Well, a girl can't argue with something like that, so I decided to put off his special meal until next week.

Once he got home, he presented me with a card and 2 gifts. Inside the card were 2 tickets for the evening to a play we've been wanting to go see. And the 2 boxes contained some new beach apparel. I was then informed that I needed to have my bags packed today because he wanted me to get to try out my new beach clothes - he planned a trip down to Rio de Janeiro for the weekend!

We went out to the theatre and saw a really funny play; the name translates to "Danger! Mineiros on Vacation!" ('Mineiros' are people from our state, Minas Gerais.) It was all in Portuguese with loquacious fast speaking Mineiros and lots of slang, so we didn't catch it all. But it was good listening practice, and the actors were hilarious. After that we had a late supper at a nice restaurant near our apartment. It was a great Valentine's Day evening for sure!

We want to get away as quick as possible today and start our drive down towards Rio. Eric's office is on the Rio side of town, so I dropped him off at work today and coming back home I had my first solo drive through the city (and in rush hour traffic no less!) Traffic was crazy, but I feel a little empowered by the fact that despite it all, I managed just fine. And by "it all", I mean: buses that ride with their left turn signal on but only veer over into your lane and almost on top of you 45 seconds after they turn their signal off, motorcycles that ride the white line between lanes and weave in and out of traffic, the cars that insisted on pulling right up to my bumper while at stop lights on hills with a 30+ percent slope (remember, manual transmissions are the rule here-thank goodness for emergency brakes or else the little fella would have gotten rolled back onto!), and other drivers who almost run you off the road to get into the left lane only to make a right turn across three lanes and almost run you into a motorcycle who is passing you on the white line. But I must admit, it was kind of fun! And I get to do it all over again in Friday afternoon rush hour to go pick up the hubby! Woohoo!

We will drive tonight until we are tired/or roads get too bad to drive on at night/or sometime before Rio so we don't have to try to find our hotel late at night traveling unknown Rio streets. In the morning we will complete the drive into town. We are staying in a hotel on Ipanema Beach (right next to Copacabana Beach and Leblon). Plans include lots of beach time and maybe a trip up to the Cristo if we get a clear day.

Off now to pack, load the car, and clean up the house a bit so I can get out of here early this afternoon! Pictures are sure to be coming on Monday!

Oh, and I learned this morning that Eric called over to my salon yesterday before my 11:00 manicure/pedicure appointment and was going to tell them to give me a facial too while I was there (something I've been talking about wanting). He found out they don't do facials there...but how sweet was that!?! Have I told you about the incredibleness of the man I married?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Little Things

They say it's the littlest things that make the biggest difference. Well, if that's the case, then Brasilian swimsuits can do a lot in this world.

As I was putting away some laundry, my new Brasilian swimsuit that I have finally gotten brave enough to wear landed in the drawer next to some American ones and I got a whole new perspective on just how different things are...

and a whole new motivation to work out!

On the far right, we have a usual swimsuit for me. Not overly 'Granny,' but certainly modest enough to be comfortable hanging out with people I know. The one in the middle is a slightly more scandalous number I wore in Jamaica on the honeymoon (I was in pretty decent shape after the stress-related weight loss from having just 4 months to plan our wedding and prepare for an international move! AND, with the exception of my husband, nobody there knew me or would ever see me again.) And then, there on the left, we have the newest addition to the collection: my Brasilian swimsuit.

The adventure of shopping for a swimsuit here was interesting. At first I was almost certain I was in the little girls department, everything I saw looked way too itty bitty for anyone over 12. I started doing a little looking around and alas, these were made for women. Okay, now to figure out what size I wear in Brasilian clothing (specifically swimsuits). I immediately started looking for something marked "Grande"- I can be honest with myself! Everything "Grande" looked awfully "Pequeno" though. Then I found a "Grande Grande" and thought maybe I was on to something. As I held it up next to my "Grande" (and a "Médio" just for the heck of it), I figured out the difference in sizing of bikinis: string length. Nope, we don't add material when making a larger size; we just make the strings longer so it will reach around you. Well, I bought a "Grande" and after tying it on, I still have some string to spare. ;) Wearing it, I feel like maybe I need to employ some of the beauty pageant tricks of double sided tape to avoid an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction, but other than that I am actually pretty comfortable here in it. I get a lot less looks than I did before in my very, very American swimsuit!

Now, I was going to add a picture to illustrate the difference in men's swimsuits too. But, the ol' hubby probably wouldn't be too happy with me. And you all know what a speedo looks like anyway: much, much smaller than boardshorts!

So the little things in Brasil should be accomplishing big things: providing motivation to keep our behinds in the gym!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Our Sunny Weekend

The rainy season is drawing to a close and bright blue sunny skies are moving in! Our weekend took full advantage of the nice weather.

Since we received the last of our furniture deliveries last week, and we finally had chairs for our dining room table, we decided to have 3 of Eric's coworkers over for supper on Friday night. I was excited to get in the kitchen and cook a big meal (since it is too hard to cook big for just the two of us! I like leftovers and all, but...) I fixed pork loin roast with dijon sauce, french onion rice casserole, cheesy cabbage casserole, three pepper salad, fried okra, yeast rolls, and peach cobbler with homemade vanilla ice cream for dessert. I think the hubby was excited to have a multicourse meal, especially after all the one skillet meals we'd been having! Despite my doing dishes along while I was preparing the meal, by the end of the night my kitchen was completely destroyed and I remembered why I miss having a dishwasher so much.

In true Brasilian fashion, we left the house just before midnight to go out with another couple to a bar that was having a Beatles cover band playing. Besides The Beatles, they also played all kinds of classic rock and we had a really fun night (or should I say morning?)

Saturday we got up and went scouring the city for a filing cabinet for our home office. It is a mess right now with all the paperwork, receipts, warranty info, etc. that currently has no home. We failed in our attempts, but we have a couple leads on other places to look. After that we went and test drove a Fiat Punto. No, as of this last weekend we still hadn't ordered a car. A long story, but we finally decided on the Punto and it was ordered yesterday. Now, short of the really painful part, paying for it when it is delivered from the factory, we are done with that. Thank goodness!

We walked over to Minas Tenis Clube I, the one right across the street from us, and spent the afternoon swimming and enjoying some time by the pool. That evening, we had plans to go see a play at a local theatre, but the ticket office where you can get discounted tickets was closed when we got there. So instead, we ended up being all dressed up at the mall shopping for new shoes. (We were denied access to the tennis courts at the clube last week due to improper attire. We were wearing our running shoes-which turn out to be strictly prohibited since all the courts are clay and they don't want some novice players tearing it up with running shoes!) We each got a new pair of tennis shoes, I got a pair of Timberland hiking shoes that were on sale, Eric found a new swimsuit, and we bought a squash ball. (We thought the clube had racquetball courts, so we brought our racquets and balls from the US, but it turns out to be squash-same racquet, different ball.) After our shopping, we went out to supper at a restaurant that serves typical Minas food, yum!

Sunday morning we went to the feira in search of a rug for our living room. It was a successful trip and then we drove over to Minas Tenis Clube Country. (The clube has 4 different properties, and as members, we have access to all of them.) As the name suggests, the setting is much different than the one near us slap in the middle of the city. Minas Country is out on the edge of town and built on a mountainside. Besides pools, tennis courts, soccer fields, restaurants, etc., this one also has hiking trails through the woods. It's a nice change of scenery and we enjoyed a few hours out there. Below are a few pictures from around one of the pools where we spent most our time.

Doing a little internet research, I found a Baptist church in Belo Horizonte that has a special English service on Sunday evenings. The church itself is comparable to the mega-churches of the southern part of the US. Their membership is incredibly large and their main church looks almost like a stadium on the inside. That style of worship is a little impersonal for me, but I felt like the attendance at an all English service would be significantly smaller in this city. We had no idea what it would be like, but Sunday evening we went to find out.

There were probably about 60 people there meeting in an auditorium in one the buildings that the church owns. Much as I was expecting from a mega-church, it was a very modern style praise service. As a Primitive Baptist girl, it wasn't my usual style, but to hear a sermon that was pulling scripture from all over the Bible and digging into the meat of it (and in English no less!) was certainly refreshing for my soul. We look forward to going back again soon. And out of curiosity, we plan to visit their main worship service too. Impersonal or not, it would be nice to see that many people all in one place excited about the word of God and singing praises to Him!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Carnaval: Some Final Thoughts

The Small Town Carnaval Atmosphere

As Americans, we only had about five basic images of Brasil before April of last year (when we were presented with the opportunity to move down here later in the year): the Amazon Rainforest, the vast farmland that American farmers are rushing to buy, beautiful beaches with tall thin dark haired tan women in skimpy bikinis, gobs of poor street gangs that are out to get American tourists (hey, I didn't say they were accurate images, just what I envisioned 2 years ago...), and the ritz, glamour, and feathers of Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro. Obviously, we have since learned of a whole lot of other things Brasil has to offer and cleared up a few misconceptions we might have had about the country. But when it came time for Carnaval in a small colonial town, we really didn't have the faintest idea of what to expect.

What we found was priceless. São João Del Rei has a population of about 80,000 (which is quite small by Brasil standards.) From what we saw walking around the town, it was a very simple place with simple people. We saw some nice houses, but no one really appeared to be rich. We also saw a large working class who didn't have much. But they put everything they had into this Carnaval celebration. The very first parade we watched, it was obvious that the costumes had been sewn from any cheap cotton fabric they could get their hands on. There were few sequins and no parade floats. But the people in the parade might as well have been wearing the fanciest costumes from Rio-they danced and twirled and bowed and put on a great show. And for me, that summarizes what made our Carnaval experience so great: it was absolutely genuine. Sure, later on we saw some awesome floats and incredible costumes, but it wasn't an industry. The groups who put on the parades weren't doing it for the money. I'm sure whatever money went into it, they put up themselves. We didn't pay an admission fee to get to watch the parade, but the people of São João Del Rei put on a show that I would dare say rivals the $200 per ticket shows of Las Vegas.

Next year, we plan to go to Rio for Carnaval, because, well, you can't be in Brasil for a couple years and not experience it. A friend of ours went this year and had a blast and brought back some great pictures. But, as amazing as all the floats are and as well put together as the parades of the Sambadrome are, there will be no way to compare it to our first Carnaval in a little colonial town along cobblestone streets. Rio's Carnaval may be grand, but São João Del Rei's is genuine!


Now, that's not to say that we didn't see a couple things that raised a few eyebrows. We had a great time, but there were a few culture shock moments too. I present these not to criticize, but to highlight a few differences and to chronicle the thoughts of a couple of not-so-young-and-crazy-anymore gringos.

Os Beijos (The Kisses)

We have found Brasilians to be very warm and inviting people. Girls are always greeted with a hug and cheek kisses, and men greet each other with a handshake and hug. Carnaval, however, seemed to turn the average young Brasilian into a hot, passionate one with a burning desire to, as Eric put it, see how much saliva they can gather from other people. One of the guys Eric works with was trying to explain the kissing phenomenon of Carnaval to us. He said something along the lines of "They love to kiss. Men will grab you (referring to me) and kiss you and it doesn't matter to them that you are married or that Eric is there." Hmmm...I didn't really see that going down very smoothly. Number one, I have three brothers, I did manage to learn to punch not like a girl, and it isn't beyond me to exercise that knowledge (just ask the boy in my sixth grade class who thought it would impress his friends if he grabbed my butt!) Number two, I have a husband who rarely leaves my side in a crowd and I've never seen him punch, but I imagine he knows how as well. Now, to go ahead and clear the air...Emily didn't get kissed by anyone except her husband.

But, oh boy we did see some kissing go down. Sometimes a group of guys (3 or 4) would gather around a girl trying to make her way through the crowded streets. They wouldn't let her pass until she had kissed them all (or sometimes just one of them.) Some of the girls giggled and smiled and held a 30 second spit exchange session. Other girls would try to push her way through the guys and one of them would grab her and force a kiss before letting her go. Her friends would laugh, his friends would laugh, and everyone would go on about their business. Other times, a guy would work on his own and make it his mission to get as many girls as possible to kiss him by their own free will. We called these ones the smooth talkers. One guy in particular who was standing near us for a while was especially talented at this. Over the course of about an hour, we watched him approach 10 or so girls. We never heard what he said to them, but each one would act like she was uninterested, he would say something to her, she would smile, and it would look like she was about to walk away. Next thing you know, they are kissing in a very major way and then he would return to his position with his friends and the girl would continue walking wherever she was going.

Now, I've not seen any data, so I don't really know, but I'd dare say there is an exceptional outbreak of herpes simplex (the one that causes cold sores) in the weeks after Carnaval. And it might not be a bad time to invest in the stocks of penicillin manufacturers in Brasil either. I fear random communicable diseases from drinking after someone. Eeeek! and Ick! at the thought of kissing that many strangers in one weekend!

The Requirements to Drink

Can you walk to the beer vendor? Can you say the word "cerveja"? Do you have R$2 (about US$1.20)? Are you tall enough to see over the side of the styrofoam cooler? Perfect! You can buy beer. Sure, the legal drinking age is 18, but the cops patrolling the crowd never even took a second look when the two girls who couldn't have been a day over 11 sashayed past them with their can of beer and bottle of hard lemonade. Growing up in small town South Georgia it's not like I've never seen underage drinking, but geez! Combine that with the trio of 6 or 7 year old boys on the street who were thoroughly enjoying their cigarettes and well, WOW.


All in all, we had a great time and really enjoyed our Carnaval experience. We are really glad we chose to do the small town this year. We learned some new things, experienced some new things, and I guess that keeps you growing as individuals when you are trying to absorb as much of the local culture as possible in a new country!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Carnaval: Day 3, Part 2

When we got back from our site seeing on Monday afternoon, there was a Bloco just starting not far from our pousada. It was raining like crazy by this time, but we decided to go join the party and just get wet...we'd need showers before going out that night anyway. This one had a beach theme, so the rain really just added to it! We got absolutely drenched before going back and getting ready for the evening. Neither of us had played in the rain for quite a few years, so it was a lot of fun!

After getting cleaned up, we met up with the other two couples and we walked over to where another Bloco was just beginning to gather and get ready to party through the streets.

(I tried to get Eric's hair up in a mini-mohawk, but all the hair glue in the world didn't want to hold it...we just went for the 'crazy party hair' instead. hehehe)

I'm fairly certain Eric and I were the only ones concerned about the power lines these guys were really close to!

After dancing through the streets for a while, we went down to the parade route and watched several great samba school parades. We have lots of pictures...

Not sure what this guy was supposed to be, but I do know that his fingernails and toenails were painted bright red.

This little one was adorable. She did the cutest samba too!

At the end of each parade a group of the city's street sweepers walked along right behind the last float and swept up any trash, feathers, and other costume pieces that might have been dropped along the route. They were dancing to the beat of the samba drums and having a blast. Every so often they would all raise their brooms over their heads and do this little dance routine-it was hilarious! They were having fun and really enjoying their job. It was so refreshing to see that!
The fella (YES, fella) was quite the character and enjoyed hamming it up for the camera (or maybe for my husband..hard to say which. HA!)

The samba parades at Carnaval include everyone: rich, poor, young, old. . .

This next picture illustrates the back , or rather lack of a back, on the costume bottoms! A little fringe is all that's needed (and sometimes not even that much!)
There isn't much to some of the tops either!

And on those days you just can't decide which top to wear...paint yourself gold and strategically throw some hair over your shoulders!

In case you were wondering how the floats here in the small cities were powered: MANpower.
The samba drums... these guys were awesome on some drums!

No gender discrimination here! There were girls playing samba drums, guys wearing... (but doesn't he have great legs! Oh, so jealous... And would you believe he didn't fall in those heels!)

Each day the parades got better and better. We had to leave Tuesday to get home so Eric could work Wednesday, but I can't imagine how incredible they must have been on Tuesday for the actual day of Carnaval!

Coming up Monday: A few final thoughts on our first Carnaval.