Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Alessandra's First Birthday

A shoulder ride from Daddy while picking up her birthday cake

My last baby turns 2 on the 30th! This poor girl's birthday is sandwiched between Christmas and New Year's Eve, so we always end up busy on her special day. Last year we spent her birthday in Vitoria. We picked up a chocolate cake, a couple treats from the bakery, strung up some balloons, and called it a day. If you notice, the cake says, "Feliz Ano Novo" or "Happy New Year." The bakery was super busy due to the holiday, so we opted to buy this pre-made cake rather than wait for them to make a new one. The cake was like 7 layers of chocolate heaven, so trust me no one minded. Maicon kept close to the treats all night. You can see him eyeballing or sampling them in most of the pictures.

Her birthday also falls in the middle of Brazil's summer; it was so hot even though we had a nice ocean breeze. I had just gotten out of the shower and was already glistening with sweat. Looking through the pictures I can't believe Alessandra was ever so bald. A year later her head is covered in tight blonde curls. I'm also forever grateful that she was able to spend her birthday with her vovó. It was really a wonderful day for both of them.

This year we're heading to Alcobaça in Bahia and departing on her birthday. She'll spend her birthday morning enduring a six hour car ride - but at least she'll have another birthday night on the beautiful Brazilian coast. So maybe a December birthday isn't so bad.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Advice For The Mother Of Two

Welcome to Jeanie's unsolicited advice corner! Recently a lot of my friends have had or are expecting their second child. Not that I'm a parenting expert (who me? The mom who literally washed her son's mouth out with soap last night because she heard "butthole" one too many times?).. but I do have two years of raising two kids under my belt. Not that I wear a belt, because having two kids caused all the fat in my body to migrate to my hips and belly. Anyway, I was a working mom of two for six months and have been a stay at home mom of two for a little more than a year and a half. So I've found a few things that work, don't work, or make life a lot easier.

Let's talk about housework. I imagine everyone just clasped their hands in joy reading that. Okay, the secret to housework is: be realistic about it. I can clean my house every hour of the day and it will still be trashed by dinner. Why? Because kids are messy. And as soon as you start to pick up their toys, they were playing with that mommy! GOSH! If I had a dollar for every time I put toys in their bins only for them to be all over the floor two minutes later, I could hire a live in maid to clean them up again. We used to have this awesome toy room that was dedicated to all my special little angel first child's billions and billions of toys. When we moved to Brazil, I said fuck that, they can each have one tote full of toys. And guess what? They've survived. So when I need to clean toys up, they get thrown willy-nilly into a tote and I can see the floor again! I no longer put all the toy cars together in their special toy car bin or every piece of play food together with its play food brothers in its special play food bin. Nah.. it all goes together in one bin. And clean up is a breeze, okay?

Dishes used to be like.. my absolute greatest nightmare. I fucking hate washing the dishes. I hate the idea of old food touching my hands. It just grosses me out. And let's not even talk about scrubbing pans. I have one pan here that is non-stick. Step one in handling this monster was to greatly reduce the number of dishes I had to wash. There are four of us in this family. We have four cups, two coffee cups, four plates, four bowls, four spoons, four knives, you get the picture. When we have company, we use paper plates. I've yet to have a guest turn down free food just because it was on a paper plate. One of the benefits to having a limited number of dishes is that we're forced to wash the dishes in order to use them. I can't just say, well I'll wash lunch's plates tomorrow and use four new plates for dinner. So there's never a huge build up of dishes for me to ignore until I eventually throw all of them in the garbage and start fresh. (Admit it - you've done that at least once in your life). I generally wash the dishes once in the morning. While everyone is getting ready for school or work, I take about five minutes (really, it's that quick), and wash last night's dishes. Since we typically have only bread and coffee for breakfast, breakfast dishes aren't an issue. Then I wash dishes again at night, right before or while I'm cooking dinner. That way lunch's dishes are washed and ready to be used again for dinner. Since by the time everyone's finished eating, I'm usually exhausted, all of dinner's dishes will get washed in those five minutes the next morning. And everyone must keep track of their cups during the day. I'm not washing cups five hundred fucking times, okay?

My only other real advice for housework today is: stay on top of it. It's so, so much easier to do a little bit every day than to do a massive clean once a week. Really, like 30 minutes of cleaning, it doesn't even have to be at once, and your house will feel clean enough to allow you to relax. I do a load of laundry, pick up anything on the floor, and wash the living room and kitchen floors every single day. (I probably wouldn't clean the floors every day, but all of ours are tile and crumbs, crumbs everywhere). I promise, as overwhelmed as you may feel, you have 30 minutes to get all this done, and it will feel like you accomplished a ton.

The second thing I want to talk about is: free time. Yeah, that's right. You'll eventually get free time. It won't be long before you can force those kids to nap at the same time. The older one doesn't want to nap? I tell my oldest one that if he's not going to sleep, I'm not going to force him, but we will turn off all the lights and the tv and be quiet. Use the iPad with no sound or read a book. Whatever. Just lay down and be quiet about it. My kids are very schedule-dependent, so making sure we have quiet time at the same time every day is really important. So what are you going to do with this glorious period of somewhat independence? Whatever you want. But I highly suggest that you plan out what you want to do. I've lost so many nap times because I got lost checking my email and then Facebook and then back to my email and then a random website and then dammit the kids are awake and I didn't actually accomplish anything, nor do I feel any less stressed out. Those days are the worst. I feel like I cheated myself. 

So decide what things you'd like to accomplish during that time. Is there a book you want to read? Want to take a nice hot bath? Get shit ready ahead of time so that you can maximize that 30 minutes or hour or however long it is your kids will nap for. Have a running list of things you'd like to do during this time. This is not the time to catch up on housework or errands. This is your time, mama. I like to paint my nails during my free time. It makes me feel like I'm taking care of myself and my nails actually get to dry before I'm tasked to get someone juice or a fifth snack. I also take online courses with Coursera (no sponsership). I've taken a photography course, a cooking course, and a logistics course. Taking courses helps me keep my mushy mommy brain active and again, I feel like I'm accomplishing something. I don't care what you do during nap time - it's your time. Just enjoy it.

Disclaimer: If your baby is a newborn, just come back to this in three months. This shit doesn't apply yet. Your goal for the first three months is to keep everyone alive. If at the end of every day, everyone is alive - you're winning. I don't care if you haven't showered in two weeks and you're living off of delivery food and coffee. Just enjoy and get through the newborn stage and then you can rejoin humanity.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Xo Zika!

Our house!


Much earlier in the year, our son's school put on a parade to educate Brazilians about the dangers of mosquitos and the illnesses they spread. (Mind you, this was at the height of the Zika "epidemic.") For the record, both myself and our one year old had Zika this past year and it wasn't a big deal. Strep throat is far worse. (More on that and why mosquitoes are such a problem for Brazil here and here). Maicon's class began the parade at the lake at the end of our street. I love the lake. It has amazing views of the mountain, a playground, ice cream and candy vendors, and a workout area. A little something for everyone.

His face completely lit up when he saw us there. I think he was caught up in the excitement of his first field trip and forgot we were coming. As always, Alessandra tried to do everything Maicon was doing, and thankfully his classmates love this energetic blondie, so she kind of took part in the parade as well. They walked around the lake and then up and down the street we live on while carrying signs and chanting "Xo Zika!" which is something like, "Get out, Zika!" They passed out seeds to a mosquito-repelling plant.  And like most of my plants, the birds and mice ate them before they could bloom. Well, it was a nice idea anyway!

P.S. Farley is just now watching Stranger Things and I have to keep mysteriosly saying, "Everything will be revealed!" while humming the theme on repeat.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Shopping in Brazil

I love clothes shopping. Furniture shopping. Decoration shopping. If I'm out and about on my own, I can endure the roughest shopping crowd. But grocery shopping awakens an anxiety within me about being crammed together with people and my all-time-most-hated-thing.. inefficiency. (Yeah, that's kind of a big one from someone who worked for the federal government for 10 years and lives in Brazil. I'm kind of punishing myself with inefficient systems). Which brings me to shopping in Brazil. I try to do all of my grocery shopping around 8am on a weekday when the crowd is at its thinnest. I live in dread of my husband asking me to pick something up when he returns from work. The store is an unbearable place for me at that time. So let's talk about shopping in Brazil:


No one bags their own groceries. It's always been my habit to grab a bag and start tossing my items in to get through the line quicker. It's very rare that I see anyone bag their own items here. Sometimes there is a bagger with the cashiers, sometimes the cashiers bag everything themselves. What it so odd to me is the way customers will stand in front of their items, unmoving, while the cashier swipes their items, issues their change, and then bags everything. I want to scream, "You know, she could be ringing up my items right now if you'd just bag your own!" But I can't translate that correctly, so instead I wait my turn.

Baskets are strewn everywhere and carts get pushed behind the line. This is even odder to me. When a basket is emptied, instead of fitting it into the stack of empty baskets next to the register, most customers haphazardly toss their basket on the floor. By the time I reach the register, I find myself compiling four or five different stacks of baskets, none sitting neatly in the one underneath it. It's become an incurable habit for me. I find my eye twitching every time I see a crooked basket. Likewise, instead of pushing shopping carts past the register and out the door where their brothers wait neatly, customers push their empty carts behind them, back into the store. I scratch my head until it bleeds when I see this. Why do these carts get pushed back into already cramped lines? With everyone behind the customer now struggling to get out of the way of the cart? I'll never know.

People will push their way to the front. Brazil exists in a world of organized chaos. But this phenomenon is not constricted to supermarkets, since it happens anywhere a queue would normally form. I can not count the number of times I have been waiting to speak to a store employee or pay, only to have someone step directly in front of me, cutting me off. Or to have been waiting to enter my son's school, only to have someone push their way in the door. I don't think this is people being intentionally rude. I think this is a cultural norm in Brazil (at least the secluded rural-city where we live). I think the belief is simply, "I need to enter this place/be waited on/pay, so I step up to the counter." In my American mind, I'm clearly in queue. But in the Brazilian culture, I'm not in a hurry to be seen. I haven't been able to overcome this cultural issue, which will forever feel rude to me. And I'm certain that even four years from now, I'll be pushed past, quietly waiting for an opening.

Retail stores:

A million attendents. Now retail stores are a whole different ball game, and I really think they have the shopping experience figured out. Enter any given store and an employee will be on you like white on rice. I wonder if this service was started as a way to detour theft, but regardless, it's awesome. I never have to search around for someone to help me. Although admittedly it was a little jarring at first, especially if I was just browsing or checking out a store I hadn't been in before. And I really enjoy window shopping. But during the many times that I've entered a store with a screaming toddler, knowing that I'll be immediately approached and can yell, "Curtains! I need curtains! Long ones, cream colored!" is heaven. And it's even better when I can sit back and enjoy a handful of options being brought to me rather than having to search them out.

Ticket to pay, then receive your items. This was another thing that took getting used to, but now I quite enjoy. Once you're finished shopping, the attendant will gather your items and issue you a ticket. You take the ticket to the designated cashier area and pay while your items are bagged. So instead of lugging all my items to the register and them being scanned and tallied, it's done while I'm walking toward the cashier, hands free to search through my wallet for the correct change. Or more likely, to death grip my toddler so she doesn't run away and destroy the store.

Thursday, December 1, 2016


November and December have quickly gained a place as my least favorite months. It alternates between pouring rain and oppressive humidity. It has me longing for the days of 100 degree dry heat. At least in the shade it's bearable. November and December however, have me hiding in my living room, basking in the air conditioning that was one of my pre-requisites for our move. Yeah, that's me living it up with the split condenser. I keep it set at 26C and my husband slyly sets it to 27C until I realize I'm sweating again. 

One of my big complaints with the metric units are that they are not as sensitive as Fahrenheit and Imperial. For example, 26C is 78.8F and 27C is 80.5F. A 1.7F difference. A difference that might solve our constant thermostat battle if say I could set it to 26.5 (79.9F). Although to be honest, I'd probably just set it to 78F and call it a day. Anything above that and I'm sweating. Anything about 40% humidity and I'm sweating. I'm just a sweaty person, okay? 

My family hails from Montreal - my body is built for the cold. I've ran in -24C conditions and other than my sweat freezing to my hat and eyelashes, my body felt great! I'm not crazy enough brave enough to run in the rain here, so my 6:30am runs have been put on hold. As it's the one time of the day that I'm alone, I rely on the post-run endorphin rush to get me through the incessant toddler demands/whining that await me.

And of course with the rain comes the flooding and the mosquitoes. Ah the mosquito, what a rescilient insect. They can lay their eggs and hatch out more monsters in only a soda bottle cap worth of water. Even with screens on our windows, we find ourselves employing the electric tennis racket mosquito killer thing to purge our house of the little bastards. They've been known to attack the littlest expat and leave her with four bites in the blink of an eye. When we're not battling the flying disease breeders, we're setting up and taking down flood gates and plugging drains. And what rainy season would be complete without a leaking porch roof that guarentees a makeshift pool on your patio despite using an infant tub to catch the more visible streams.

On the bright side, everything is lush and grass is abundant - free food for our guinea pigs!