Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Christmas Photo Challenge

It's nothing new. Families around the world have been trying to take group pictures of children for as long as cameras have been around. Despite all the technology we have today, I don't think the task has gotten any simpler!

We were in Florida at the home of Eric's sister, Tanya, and her husband and three kids. It was Christmas Eve. We had just gotten home from church services that evening. It was after 7:00 pm and the kids hadn't been fed. And did I mention it was Christmas Eve? As in, the night that Santa Claus and his little reindeer make their rounds across the world bringing toys and excitement to all the good girls and boys.

The adults/parents in the family decided that, since everyone was dressed up, we should take some group pictures of all four kiddos in front of the tree. Remember: almost bedtime, way past suppertime, and the excitement of Christmas Eve. Now, please tell me why we thought a good photo was possible. Reason number 243 children grow up thinking their parents are idiots. (Featured below are Hannah (14 months), Kaylee (3 years), Madison (5 years), and Gabriela (8 months).)

"Oh, Hannah, Honey, you need to sit by the tree with your sisters."
"Kaylee, stop pulling your sister's foot and look at the camera, please."

"Okay, thanks for looking at the camera, but can you back up a little Hannah?"
"And Kaylee, where's that pretty smile?"

"Gabriela, you can't eat the wrapping paper, Sweetie."
"Hannah, I know you're hungry, but we need you to sit down please for just another second."

"Good job holding your sister, Kaylee, but do you think you can smile for us?"
"Gabriela, we don't need you looking reptilian. Tongue back in your mouth, please."
"Hannah, what are you eating?"

"Gabs, hands down, please. Yes, I know you're hungry."
"Hannah, really, Babe, we need you to stay put one more second."

"Oh, wow, we're digressing."
"Nena and Papa, how about y'all jump in there with them. That will make things easier."

"Nena, look up here at the camera, please."
"Papa, think you can sit Hannah up straight for us?"

"Here, a pacifier should help hungry Hannah stay with us for a minute more."
"Papa, we need you to look at the camera now, please."

"Oh, and hold on to the baby too."

(Insert hungry/tired cries from Hannah and Gabriela now.)
"Okay, I think we're done."
"Out of all those we should have at least one good shot."
(Well, you'd think so anyway!)

I think next year we'll just take a picture of Madison. At least she's cooperative!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

9 Months (Oops, and 8)

(9 month progress picture will be added here soon.)

Dear Gabers,

Today you turn 3/4 of a year old. To celebrate the occasion, we went shopping, a habit of ours that your father will probably never fully approve. One day when you get older I'll teach you how to slowly let the new things appear, not all at once as to alarm your Papai and send him quickly to the computer to check the Capital One account. These are the things that I look forward to sharing with you, my daughter, as you grow.

I have to apologize for never getting around to writing your 8-month letter. It's not that I forgot, but rather it got pushed to the bottom of the to-do list since it fell on the same day (December 21) that we were leaving Brasil to move to the US. And then by the time all the other pressing matters were taken care of, well, you were almost 9 months old! But I'll try to hit the highlights of your 8th month of life along with this one.

Two days after writing your 7-month letter, you started crawling like you'd been doing it your whole life. It is more of a belly dragging army crawl than a typical hands and knees baby crawl, but you get around just fine that way. And good grief, you are fast! Especially when going after something you know you're not supposed to have. Luckily for your father and me, you haven't learned how to be sneaky yet: you get real excited and loudly grunt when you're in a hurry and that alerts us to the fact that you are headed for trouble (usually in the form of an electric cord, breakable object, or something else we have guided you away from a thousand previous times.) Your timing with this whole crawling thing was impeccable: you started crawling just as we were starting to sort through the Belo Horizonte apartment and get things ready to sell/move/pack. You made the process extra exciting, while also creating a serious laundry issue for your mother. You did a great job cleaning my floors with your belly, but I seriously plan on patenting a disposable "swiffer onsie" just for babies like you who crawl with their belly dragging the floor! (I admit that I did put a cleaning rag underneath you on more than one occasion, but mostly that was to keep your clothes clean . . . not to put you to work as a mop.)

We arrived in the US just in time for Christmas with all the family. You did really awesome on the international journey (slept the entire overnight flight) and the subsequent trains, buses, and shuttle vans we took to get around to our destinations in Florida and Georgia. You had a constant stream of compliments on what a happy, pretty baby you are. And you eat all that attention right up!!! There is still not the slightest sign of stranger anxiety. I swear you'd go home with anybody!

Just before we got back to the US, your Papai taught you to give high 5's. And at about the 8 1/2 month mark, you decided to add two new tricks to your repertoire all on your own: waving and going from your belly to sitting. I hadn't been working with you much on waving, minus occasionally grabbing your hand and waving it bye-bye to people. But as you and I walked out of a restaurant after eating lunch one day, I heard people behind me saying, "Aw, look, she's waving at us!" And sure enough, you were grinning ear to ear and waving your little hand like a beauty queen on parade. The next day you were playing on the bathroom floor while I took a shower. You were on your belly and then decided you wanted to be sitting up, so you pulled your little legs up underneath yourself from the side and sat right up, completely effortlessly.

The food front is going great. You eat darn near 100% of anything offered to you. You are not a picky eater at all! Broccoli, collard greens (one of your favorites now, actually!), lima beans: you absolutely love all the usual not-kid-friendly foods. You've got the healthiest diet of anyone else in the household with a steady stream of various fruits, veggies, beans, yogurt, and meats in their pure form with no salt or sugar or any other additive. I get a few funny looks, as I am pretty strict about your current all-natural, sugar/salt-free diet. Ultimately, when you're older, I just think moderation is the important thing, but I can't see the point in feeding a 9-month old junk. And your Papai's with me on this one, so no ice cream, coffee, coke, processed stuff, or otherwise unnecessary foods for you right now. You currently get over-the-top excited when I put collards in front of you and plain yogurt for dessert? Score!!! I'd just assume keep it that way as long as I can! Breastfeeding is still going strong with four feedings per day and I intend to keep it up, as is the current recommendation by pediatricians, until your first birthday.

We had some trouble getting you to feed yourself, but we figured out a way to motivate you to do that too. Your Aunt Brii made a comment at New Year's Eve about how much you love to be praised. A couple days later, as I was trying to get you to feed yourself peas (and all you wanted to do was brush them onto the floor . . . despite the fact that you pick up inedible objects and shove them in your mouth constantly), I remembered that comment. I placed a pea between your finger and thumb and then guided your hand to your mouth. The second the pea was in your little chomper I did the biggest happy dance complete with all the yays and muito bons I could muster. You got a big grin on your face and, never taking your eye off of me, grabbed another pea and slowly put it in your mouth. I repeated making a spectacle of myself, much to your pleasure. After that we never had another problem. We put small pieces of food in front of you and you mow them down. Our only challenge now is keeping up; you eat faster than we can get the food cut up!

You are pretty much on track or ahead on most of your developmental milestones, with the exception of your verbal skills. You still don't really make any vowel or syllable sounds (despite lots of encouragement to say "Mamamamae" or "Papapapapai" from the respectively named adults in your life.) You have a whole arsenal of grunts, moans, squeals, and giggles, but I suspect you're going to be late talker like your ol' Mommy who didn't really say anything comprehensible until after I was two years old. Time will tell. Meanwhile, you have great eye-hand coordination for your age and you have a really developed little pincher grasp with your thumb and forefinger! I'm sure the people who think you're mute will notice that and think, "wow, what a smart baby!" ;)

It's exciting to see you are able to understand more and more of what we say everyday. I can ask you "Onde esta Madeline?" and you immediately start looking for and retrieve your Madeline doll that Grandma and Grandad bought you for Christmas (your very first doll and one of your very favorite things right now!) I can also ask for " beijos" or tell you to give one to Madeline and you spread the kisses around! You also get a real big kick out of not giving kisses to your Papai when he asks for them; I think you love his dramatic, heart-broken response and the subsequent tickles and big kisses you get from him after your rejection! Your father and I try to speak 100% Portuguese when we are alone with you. We only read to you in Portuguese, but in day-to-day interaction, we probably end up with about 20% English slipping in. But I figure any second language exposure is better than none, even if it is your Mamae's bad Portuguese. It seems like it would be such a waste to know a language and then not teach it to our children! We hope it becomes the natural language at home and you find it to be something fun and interesting as you grow older. (We'll certainly be trying to make it not a big deal and never force it, but encourage you to want to learn and speak the language of your second nationality!)

It's amazing to watch as you grow and learn and completely humbling to know that I had a little something to do with it. You are an amazing kid, already at just 9 months, and every time we have you out or around other people your Papai and I come home smiling and telling each other how proud you make us to be your parents. I love you so, so much my little Gabs!

Eu te amo,


P.S. You're up to a whooping 26.5 inches (15th percentile) and 16.4 pounds (10th percentile). Given how much food you can put away, I think that your small stature is really a testament to how you are wiggly, squirmy, and constantly on the move! Well, either that or your dairy cow is producing skim milk . . . not sure which. ;) But either way the doctors say they've never seen a healthier kid, so we're not too worried about you midget-ness.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Used Car Shopping . . .

It's about as much fun as a slow poke in the eye with a sharp stick. (And feel free to quote me on that.) New car shopping is indefinitely more fun, but writing the check hurts a lot more. And so, until being a stay-at-home mom pays a lot more (dirty diapers and slobbery kisses just don't buy much at the store), used it is.

It's been a long, slow process. But we finally have 2 vehicles now!

The search for my "family vehicle" was the less painful venture. At least less painful after I convinced Eric I needed something bigger than a 5-seater car, and then informed him in no uncertain terms that I would not be driving a mini-van. (That boy seems to have his heart set on a dadgum mini-van. It's like some kind of dream of his or something. All I ever hear are all the glorious attributes of the things. I told him he could have a mini-van to drive instead of a truck, but I wasn't driving one. And no offense meant to all the mini-van-moms out there. But it just, well, it just isn't me. Combine that with the fact that I informed my father at the tender age of 13 that I wouldn't drive one and, knowing I wanted a big family one day, he bet me I would - and he probably doesn't even remember that, but I hate to be wrong. So basically, it just boils down to no mini for me!!!)

Enter Buick Rendezvous. Never even considered it when we first started looking at cars online while still living in Brasil. I really wanted the option of a 3rd row of seats, but we didn't want to sacrifice fuel economy with a big SUV (there are a lot of miles between Iowa and Georgia). The Ford Freestyle caught my attention pretty early on, so we were mostly looking that route. Then I came across a Rendezvous in the classifieds for the Athens newspaper. We sent my Dad over to look at it and then made the purchase. Good condition, not too high mileage, and the price was right. Done. We picked the car up from my Dad and drove it from Georgia to Iowa after New Year's.

Eric's vehicle search has been a bit more of a process. Our initial idea was an older 4-wheel drive truck. Nothing fancy, just something to make the 1 1/2 mile commute to work each day plus a truck to pull the boat down to the Mississippi River and haul stuff for all of our home projects.

The truck search began while we were in Brasil on AutoTrader.com. The highlight of that effort was a scammer. Well, make that two of them. Luckily that becomes real obvious real quick when the phone number they give is not in service, and they want money up-front, but they are unable to let a friend of ours come look at the truck. Um, yeah, sure.

We continued looking once we made it to Georgia after Christmas. The featured event there took us to a used car dealership in Gainsville, Georgia. Upon pulling up we noticed all the signs were in Spanish and 90% of the vehicles on the lot had 20" chrome rims and low-profile tires (not trying to encourage stereo-types here, just reporting the facts of our particular situation). We thought being at a Mexican dealership could have advantages - Eric has always had good luck bargaining on stuff in Mexico. After being referred to as "Hommes" several times, driving the truck, and giving it a good look-over, Eric was ready to make an offer. He pulled out his print out of the Kelley Blue Book Value on the truck. He told the salesman he was willing to pay the dealer blue book value, but nothing more than that. Confused (or feigning confusion) he called over his manager. They both said they didn't know what this "blue book" we talked about was and informed us that they were a dealer. Um, okay, yes, we gathered that. They then went on to tell us how the used car market is booming and they can get pretty much whatever price they want. To which we laughed, and then we left.

Once in Iowa, we continued our search. Too much rust, too much money, too many miles. We just couldn't find anything that suited us. Saturday morning we found a Chevy Avalanche in Keokuk (not too far from us in Burlington). It was in perfect condition and the price wasn't bad. We were pretty much ready to buy, but decided to go home and do some online research first (since we really hadn't been looking for an Avalanche specifically). Our search turned up the exact same vehicle for a couple thousand dollars less over in Peoria, Illinois. We decided to make the drive over to look at it on Monday, since Eric had the day off (MLK Day).

It was Saturday afternoon by this point, and all the banks were closed until Tuesday. "What if we want to buy the truck on Monday?" we wondered. Most places don't really want to take a personal check. Enter in brilliant idea: withdraw the maximum amount possible from the ATM using our three different ATM cards each day for the next three days so that we literally have cash in hand on Monday.

We ended up buying the truck. With cash. All 20's. It is a bit nerve-wracking to have that much cash in my possession. Each night I told Eric, "If the house catches on fire, I'm going to get the baby. You are in charge of the cash, okay?" We also had the same agreement on the 1 1/2 hour drive to Peoria (you know, in case our car spontaneously burst into flames or something.) I have also never felt like I was doing something so wrong in my life. Eric and I both were apologizing and explaining to the guy why we had thousands of dollars - all in 20's - and promising him we weren't drug dealers nor had we just knocked off a gas station ATM. The guy just smiled and continued counting. Eric even offered to show him all the ATM receipts. hehehe

In the end, life is good. We have two sets of wheels now (pictures will be forth-coming), so I no longer have to get up and drive Eric to work in the mornings or pick him up in the afternoon. I also don't have to drive a mini-van. And for that I will be eternally grateful.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Being Back

Just a few thoughts after being back in Iowa for 10 days:

- To the good people of Burlington: I'm not a complete idiot. Promise. When I look at you with my mouth half-hanging open like I'm about to say something but then it takes me a few more seconds before anything actually comes out, it is only because I am stopping myself from speaking to you in Portuguese. I guess maybe I became more fluent than I thought - Portuguese is always the first thing that comes to mind when I am conversing with strangers. I find myself having to translate to English in my head before I can talk. Meanwhile I stand there looking like someone pressed the pause button.

- I need to get out, quickly. Yesterday Gabriela and I were running a few errands (aka shopping) around town. As we were making the trek across the parking lot into Lowe's, I told Gabs, "Wow, today is a really nice day" (actually, I told her that in Portuguese, but that isn't important to the story.) When we got back to the car and we were driving away, I noticed the thermometer was reading 26 degrees F. Holy crap. I am losing all perspective. I don't care if the sun is shining. Anything below freezing should never be considered "nice". (Eric, stop grinning. I am not turning Iweegan. I am not!!!)

- People in Brasil were always quick to tell me how cold Americans are (and I'm not talking temperature here.) I didn't quite get that. I think I am a pretty warm and friendly person, and I know lots of other Americans who are far from "cold". After being completely ignored by more than one restaurant hostess, having a hotel cleaning staff member snap at me about putting up my "do not disturb" sign when I smiled and kindly told her she didn't have to worry about cleaning my room since my daughter was still sleeping, and several other encounters with not-so-nice people in the service industry, I think I get it. If this is the experience Brasilians have when they visit, I guess I totally understand their impression of Americans. They don't come here and interact with close friends, the vacationing foreigners' contact is pretty much limited to the service industry. And while there are plenty of exceptions, they are not always the friendliest lot of folks.

- On the other hand, I have been LOVING dealing with customer service departments here in the US. The customer is always right here, even when they are dead wrong. My cell phone company credited me a full month's service when I questioned the fact that they started charging me several days before my phone was even activated, despite that their policy is to start billing from the purchase date, not the activation date. My bank reversed two small monthly maintenance fees charged to an account. I thought the fees were an error, but turns out they were in fact justified. But they refunded it anyway as a gesture of goodwill. I have made lots of returns to stores and received full cash refunds. Customer service here is so much better than Brasil! Even if people aren't as friendly. :)

-Gabriela is just as cute here as she was in Brasil. I am her mom, and, of course, I think she is the most adorable thing on the face of the planet. But I had been attributing all the attention she got in Brasil to the fact that she has bright blue eyes, curly light-ish hair, and lots of cool baby gear (all of which made her stand out A LOT in Belo Horizonte). While everyone noticed her eyes in Brasil and no one has made any mention of them here, she is still turning heads and it is still impossible to do anything quickly when she is with me. It could just be the way she flirts with and grins at every single person we pass, but people are constantly stopping us even here and raving about how gorgeous she is. It's almost enough to give her Momma a big head!

- And finally, it does feel good to be home. I love Brasil and am already suffering some serious saudades (the least of which involves the weather.) And I'm still not sure I have totally accepted that we are here to stay and not just for a visit. But it is nice to be back.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Momma's Got a New Boyfriend

After our initial freeze and subsequent thawing out (man, I love heaters), we went over to our home here in Burlington. It is a house that Eric bought in 2005 (pre-Emily) and the perfect little starter home: three bedroom, two bath, finished basement, and 2-stall garage. We lived there together for six weeks after we were married, but then rented it out to a family when we moved to Brasil.

There are plenty of renter nightmares out there: stories of broken windows, holes in the walls, and your home turning into a crack house. Luckily we were spared any of that. Or at least no one has shown up at our house looking to buy drugs, yet. But we weren't spared crayon on every wall in the house, magic marker and cigarette burns on the carpet (yeah, they totally smoked in our house despite the contract specifically forbidding it!), a kitchen that appears to not have been cleaned in the entire two years we were gone, and a lovely build-up of soap scum in the bathrooms.

My initial reaction included curling up in the fetal position, sucking my thumb, and crying for Lucilene (my faxineira - cleaning lady - in Brasil). A couple days later, I decided what I really needed was a new boyfriend. Nothing cheers you up like new love, right?

Surprisingly enough, my ever supportive husband was okay with it. In fact, I might even go so far as to say that Eric encouraged my efforts and actually was excited to hear I was spending so much time with my new boyfriend while he labored away at the office all day. But I must admit I even surprised myself with the new apple of my eye. He's about as different from Eric as you can get. Burly, bald, pierced, and with crazy bushy eyebrows. Nothing at all like my usual type. But what can I say, I am smitten.

And maybe you even know my new boyfriend. He's rather famous.

Ah, yes. The oh-so-hot Mr. Clean. He and I had some good times last week. Between his magic erasers and multi-surface antibacterial cleaner, my house is now sanitized and a lot less gross. My bathrooms sparkle and the kitchen appliances shine. And now after a weekend full of interior painting and new carpet that should be installed within the next week, our house is going to be ready to be moved into real soon.

Meanwhile, we are living it up in a hotel letting someone else make my bed and fix my breakfast. Which is nice as it gives me a lot more time to lament in my current sub-freezing situation, wipe snotty noses (mine and Gabriela's (Eric is in charge of his own mucus) - we are fighting some nasty colds right now), and power-walk laps in the mall with all the old people (which is great for my waist and my spirits . . . but not so much for the credit card bill).

We've been real busy and I've got so much catch-up blogging to do on the holidays, our final days in Brasil, oh, and our vacation from back in November. Promise I'm going to get around to it all soon! For now, I've got to go suction out my child's nose. For the 14th time today. Try not to be jealous. ;)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Officially Frozen. Completely.

Dear Mother Nature,

You see, I was very determined to have a positive attitude when we made the move from Brasil to Iowa. I might have moaned and whined a little before arriving, but I honestly planned to make the most of the frozen tundra that is my husband's home state.

However, after driving 13 hours through the night (so that Gabriela could sleep the whole ride) and being greeted by this:

(That's -24 degrees C for my buddies in Brasil!)

I must admit that I contemplated slipping Eric a Ruffie, turning the car around, and trying to drive all the way to Brasil before he came to. And then I realized that I wouldn't have the foggiest idea where to buy illegal drugs. And I was going to have to live here. And actually get out of the car.

As I exited our vehicle and made the 20-second dash from the car to the hotel where we are staying for now, I am fairly certain I suffered frostbite on every portion of exposed skin.

And poor little Gabriela, she is not too sure about any of this. Especially the 18 layers of clothes she must wear when we venture between the hotel, the car, and the various places we've been having to go the last two days. Kiddo is totally not digging the inability to turn her head or move her limbs. And the hat hair, oh the hat hair!!!

So basically, as I face the coldest weather of the season in my first days back, I guess it all just boils down to this:

I don't like you, Mother Nature. And I really don't appreciate your sick little sense of humor.

Emily (the human-shaped icicle wearing a scowl)