Tag Archives: Brazil

Good Gifts

Warning:  this post gets worse before it gets better.  I PROMISE a laugh at the end, even if you might cry with me in the beginning.


Sally and I were born on the same day, 26 years apart.  As I was not with my mother last year on our birthday, my wish when blowing out the candles on my birthday cake was that I would get to spend another birthday together.   She had THE BEST BIRTHDAY EVER.  Queen for the Day!  Me, not so much.  Mine included a full moon and a trip to the ER for Mr. Understanding.

For our  40th and 66th birthdays, my parents came to Brazil.  I had a blow out party, complete with caipirinha bar, 1964 themed attire, and a marvelous DJ.   At a group lunch on our birthday, one woman commented, “Oh, I’d hate to share a birthday with my mother.  When one would die, the other would be sad forever.”   I had never had that thought before.   I recall wanting to reach down across the table and slap her face.  I can remember exactly where I was when this woman blurted out this truism.  Fortunately, I cannot remember who it was.  Thank you, Jesus.

Ever since, though, some reptilian part of my brain has been preparing for this future day, approaching in 2017,  exactly nine months after my mother’s death, the full gestational life of a baby.  What new thing will be born then?  What was a thoughtless comment has actually made me pay sufficient attention to our mutual birthdays, particularly the ones spent together.  Of these, there were many.  Perhaps I should thank that nameless face for the opportunities we had to REJOICE together whenever possible?

When I said at the beginning of my Homage to The Radish that there was no baggage between me and my mother, I might have been fibbing.  For example:

My mother and I had WILDLY different notions about gift giving.

Here is a conversation I had in my head prior to my 4th birthday:

Me:  Why is Mommy locked in a bedroom sewing all day?

Myself:  She is making you a little leather dirndl, edged with fancy German ribbon at the top.  She is having a real issue with the plastic loops for the shoulder straps.  I know ’cause I snooped and I can her her swearing inside.

I: But I don’t want a leather dress!  How about a doll???

Let’s fast forward to my 17th birthday.

Me:  Wow!  A Merriam-Webster Dictionary!

Myself:  And a red London Fog rain coat?!  Just what every 17 year old wants!

I:  Seriously?  How about the new Michael Jackson album???  A pair of Famolares?

Fast forward again to my 30th birthday.

Me:  A commemorative copper pot!  Engraved even!

Myself: Is this a message about my cooking???  I have a nine month old baby!


It sort of became a joke.  Sally believed that the gift was more about what the giver wanted to give.  I am more about pleasing the recipient.  Both of us were thoughtful in our approach.  My mother had as many hits as misses.  Me, I mostly hit it out of the park in the gift department: French jacquard tea towels, fancy aprons, Jo Malone body cream.  If I didn’t, I’d find the item the next summer in her church garage sale bin.

Last year, I could not think of anything I wanted or truly needed.  So I told her to buy me a knife, because I knew she was coming to visit me in Arkansas and would enjoy using it.  Sally had great knives and I knew it would please her to give me one, even though she always traveled with her own knives, wrapping them in dishtowels and sandwiching them between her underpants, sweaters, and books inside her checked luggage.

Here is a list of gifts I gave my mother that pleased her greatly, not all of them material.

  1. suede go go boots and green eyeshadow – my dad and I picked them out at a store called The Gas Company (?) on the Arcata Plaza.  Age 5.
  2.  wearing a German dirndl she made for me.  Age 18.  University of Oregon campus.  ARE YOU DYING FOR ME YET???? This memory is so painful I am saving it for an actual book.
  3. cutting my hair in a style Sally found short and attractive for my round face.  Age 45.

Finally, every year there was a debate about the cake.  What to have?  Who wants to make a cake on their birthday?  Not my mother.  Sometimes we had pie.  Did I mention that my mother, while an excellent cook, did not like to bake anything but bread until her late 60s?

Here, a photo of one of her cake baking efforts.


Fantastic on color theory, a little sloppy on the piping.  This would only cause her to shrug her shoulders – oh well!

I still have a copper pot I use all the time, a well used dictionary, some fancy knives, and a quilt under which to hide my oh so weary head or with which to make a tent.  As I look at the quilt, she must have had an inkling of how often I’d move.


But the best gift she ever gave me was time spent with her.  How I wish I had more of it!  This year I will make a wish that she will be with me and my father in spirit, helping me to blow out the candles, putting her hand on my dad’s shoulder to lean in and assure us we’ll see her in the blink of an eye.



Filed under Birthdays, Family, Life, Moving, Shopping, Travel

Amazing Grace



Photo credit:  The Expat Princess, University of Florida Natural History Museum, Butterfly Rainforest


Fifteen years ago today I broke my ankle in several parts in my living room in Brazil.  We had moved there two months earlier.  My household possessions had still not arrived.

It took my mother two weeks to get to Brazil  (she needed to get a visa) but then she stayed for ten weeks to take care of me and my family.  Can you imagine giving up ten weeks of your life to nurse a bedridden, super cranky daughter?   In a foreign country?  She left Big Mike alone to fend for himself for 7 weeks.  He was gracious about lending her to us.

Sally did have a driver, housekeeper,  and a personal trainer so she was not feeling too sorry for herself.   She cooked, picked up the three year old from nursery school, supervised homework, and  brought me diet chocolate and two whiskeys every evening, one at 6 p.m. and one at 7.  (I was not given any pain killers when I left the hospital).  She and Mr. Understanding wrangled me into the shower every couple of days, a garbage bag up to my hip.  When I bathed my mother after her surgery, my thoughts returned to this most hideous period of my life and how generous she was with me.

And this I would say is the joy that cometh after a dark period.  One is never the same.  Being still and knowing Who Is In Charge fundamentally changes one in ways indefinable – until the next period of darkness. It creates patience.  Endurance.  Empathy and sympathy.  The kindness of virtual strangers and love of family members does carry one through.  I am a better person because of a broken ankle.  I will be a better wife, mother, and daughter because of this broken heart.   We learn by doing.

I did not cry this morning in yoga when Amazing Grace came on over the speakers.



Filed under Family, Friends, Life, Religion, Travel

Child of the Dark

Carolina Maria de Jesus

So last week I asked you to do some required reading for this week’s post. Did you do it?

Reason: La Lopez gave me some required reading of my own, a book called Child of the Dark, a diary written by a “favelado” woman named Carolina Maria de Jesus, first published in 1960. I had never heard of the book, not even during the time I lived in Brazil. The book was instrumental in forming La Lopez’s own life path and current work with the UN in Chile so I thought it worth the read.

When I first cracked the book, I, naturally, read the prologue. All of it seemed applicable. Until I got to the numbers for the favelas in Rio de Janeiro: 200. This could not be right! So I fast forwarded and discovered that the preface was written in 1962. Fifty years later, there are approximately 880 favelas.

Obviously, things have not improved poverty-wise during half a century. Why? Guns and drugs. Reading the book, it is clear that while the poor in the late 1950s had plenty of knives and pinga (sugar cane alcohol) the other two were not in wide circulation.

Slavery ended in Brazil, officially, in 1888 by the stroke of a pen brandished by an Empress. But I ask you, with conditions worse than fifty years ago, is the situation today not another form of slavery? Will electing on October 31, 2010 a former Marxist guerrilla, Dilma Rousseff*, make living in a favela any better? Does this make you want to go to Rio for the Olympics in 2016? Carolina had to contend with gnawing hunger; today’s “favelado” dodges bullets. But I do not feel better about the situation in Brazil having read the the book and doing some follow up research.

So, while I was complaining last week about my crappy house, in reality, I know better. I have (hot) running water, toilets, electricity not boosted off the grid. My roof leaks only intermittently. Better yet, I can move if I want/need to. There is too much food in my stomach and I am not mired in the vicious cycle of poverty.

Now you have some required reading for the end of year. I will be interested to know if my Brazilian amigas have read the book. The afterward, written by a Robert M. Levine, was particularly interesting as it tells of Carolina’s life after the publication of her diary and her subsequent departure from the favela. Carolina’s story does not have a fairy tale ending, I warn you. But the real take away from her life was her incredible strength, sense of self, and her continual desire for a better life. She never gave up.

Speaking of moving, Mrs. NATO (pronounced Nay-to, like the organization) is out of here in six weeks. Her beloved, Mr. NATO, is headed to Iraq** the day after her 40th birthday in January of 2011. He will be staying a year. How is that for some birthday present?

Is there a moral to my sad saga? Why, yes, several lessons are applicable to me. 1) if you don’t live in a favela, Iraq, or Afghanistan, or in other hot spots around the globe, stop complaining. 2) sometimes being suckered by real estate offers up a friend or two (to wit: Raftbuddy and Mrs. NATO) 3) peacekeeping sometimes means continued combat.


*Dilma was imprisoned from 1970 – 1972 for her activities.

**Peace-keeping mission? Really? He will be receiving combat pay, so, no.


Filed under Charitable Endeavors, Mature, Moving, People, Reading, Spanish vocabulary

Crumbling Castle Redux

I am divorcing my house on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. Mr. Understanding agrees with me. As with any bad relationship, I have long been in denial. I kept thinking the landlord would come to her senses, would be rational and see the big picture. I was wrong. I am not perfect (click to read about perfectionism: www.ordinarycourage.com).

We move in the middle of January, 1011 to a new house which has yet to be found.

Am I a malcontent of the first order? Or do I just have bad luck? Gamamae thinks I just have “bad house karma”. I am not so sure I buy that theory although I am willing to entertain the idea that the good Lord is trying to tell me something. How exactly did this happen?

Well, again, I was suckered by real estate (read: large garden and deep pool for rowdy children; refer to College Quest post) and the promise of an attentive English speaking landlord. Visions of recreating my Brazilian Shangri-la in a Spanish Eden short-circuited my brain: I am a fool for a veranda. Sipping sangria, I could keep an eye on the frolicking children.

Add to this a sampling of a year’s worth of repairs and the concomitant repairmen parading through my house:

*faulty electrical system – repaired innumerable times and on the fritz again
* dishwasher – repaired 2x
*crumbling front door – hunks fell off; door replaced and now paint on new door is peeling
*replacement of stove top – without burners for 2 weeks
*replacement of pool pump
*leaking pool – still
*refrigerator repair 2x – replacement of thermostat, motor and filter
*incorrectly installed lighting, flickering randomly – related to item #1? or just a senile repairman? Both!
*locked into master bedroom – lock on inside of room – had to exit through bathroom window
*shower door – off hinges 4x, hinges replaced on 4th go; we think.
*oven repair
*dishwasher and clothes dryer repair
*alarm battery died – sounded at 2 a.m. even though alarm not set
*leaking roof
*bats in belfry – literally – but protected species so have to listen to their little claws scratching the inside of the roof
*broken door knobs – repair still pending.
*oh and robbery in car port – did not enter home

Everyone in my family knows that I am a bad nurse. “Buck up!”, I tend to say, unless someone has fractured a bone or is vomiting repeatedly and I have to clean it up. A mere tummy ache doesn’t cut it with me. I need objective symptoms. Attending to my house and waiting for hours on end for unreliable repairmen likewise turns me into a krankenschwester* – one cranky sister. The objective symptoms are all there but I am tired of cleaning it up.

Are you getting the picture? After China, I am just not in the mood. It’s like watching a rerun of my own life, minus the tadpoles in the toilet and Chinese repairmen with bad combovers. The Spaniard repairmen (and occasional Ecuadorian) are generally a cheerful bunch who just reek of smoke; I can communicate with them which is good. Sometimes they fix things, sometimes they do not.

My mother, a.k.a. the Radish, absolved me from my negative feelings by reminding me that it is hard to pick a house in a foreign country over a long weekend. This was a real gift to me, these kind words, and I have clung to them.

Bottom line: after fifteen years, I am tired of living in other people’s houses.

* German for “nurse”.

Required reading for next installment: www.nytimes.com.


Filed under Charitable Endeavors, Domesticity, Life, Moving

Caminando por la Calle*

Nightmare on Elm Street … Photos to follow, sequentially. 425Heidi was right. I almost picked the word for sweaty. My posse of swarthy Spaniards were ripe after a long day of hauling our crap around. The results: superlative. The joy at seeing my Chinese stone lanterns is comparable to seeing the delivery of my cheap Mexican pots from my spot on the pool chair, broken ankle elevated, in Brazil. Imagine, if you will, sipping sangria in the garden illuiminated by geological candle light. The Lord is good to me!

*pronounced cai -yeh, as in Yipee Yi Yo Cay Yay, Mother Facebooker! And who doesn’t love the Gypsy Kings? Thing 1 first grooved to them at 8 months old.

Happy Birthday to Gerald K. in Brazil who keeps the faith and makes sure folks show up on Sunday! HBD to Mrs. O’Leary’s Thing 1 – I hope he’s learned to eat zucchini by now.

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Filed under Birthdays, Family, Friends, Life, Moving, People

Random Thoughts & the Eco-Ama de Casa

For all you voyeurs out there, today I thought I’d throw you a bone with some random thoughts on Spain. It has been quiet here, as most of the country takes the month of August off. We have not met one neighbor although a soccer ball has made its way into our yard and the English we heard over the back fence is intermittent at best. The kids start school on Friday so I am guessing this is our last week of quiet. Truly, there has not been much to report but here you go, then:

*sticker shock is extreme. When Mr. Understanding and I dined at Piu de Prima last week, we dressed up a tad, per the Luxe guide’s “smart” rating. The regulars, however, come in flip flops and jeans, on dates with paramours and friends, and yak on cell phones. A special anniversary dinner for us is a regular meal for them. Where do they get this money???? Hmmm? Lunch out at the Plaza Mayor on Sunday cost us $175 – granted we ate a lot of tapas and later had sandwiches for dinner but still …. I will be talking a lot about this in the weeks to come, in a First World v. Third World compare/contrast kind of way. Let’s just say that if you have ever dined on picanha, farofa and caipiroskas, in my favorite dive restaurant Cenario in Campinas, Brazil you’d know what I am talking about and feel my pain.

*you don’t have to wear makeup to the grocery store but accessories are essential, preferably a stack of bracelets on one arms, composed of primarily silver or silver and leather. If you can wear a maxi dress, no bra, and heels, so much the better. The grocery stores are clean and you can get nearly everything you want. But you cannot go into the store the wrong way or the cashier will yell at you, as in, “SENORA! No se peude! No se puede!” I walked into the Hipercor store through an open turnstile and the cashier four rows over nearly had a heart attack. For a moment I thought I was in Germany. But no, she kept speaking Spanish to me like I understood her (which I did), her eyes sternly furrowed under her brow, like she was going to get up and beat me around the head. I kept standing there thinking, “You have got to be effin’ kidding me!” and deciding whether to pretend I didn’t understand her, giving her the infamous deer in the headlights look. Finally, I reluctantly retraced my steps, thinking it would be bad for Mr. U’s business if his wife was arrested during their first week in-country, and went back out and then down to the formal entrance of the store 10 yards away.

*the sky has been blue for two weeks. Seriously. This fact alone makes me love this country. I can’t write too much about this because I don’t want to depress the girls in Seattle or Shanghai. My tan is achieving a healthy glow and we have used up nearly all of our imported spray on sunscreen.

*my “worker bees”, as the Radish calls them, are learning the value of the Euro, as Mr. Understanding and I are no longer in the cell phone purchasing business. Mop the floor = 1 euro, hang the laundry and fold it = 1 euro, clean the kitchen = 1 euro. Thing 3 has mastered the $300 steam iron (see item #1) and, in conjunction with the $200 ironing board, necessary to support the 20 kilo iron, spends hours glued to the TV ironing away. I supervise from the next room. Having learned the secret of multitasking, she has called “dibs” on this form of income. One shirt = 1 euro. The investment is already paying off (and here, a shout out to Radish for actually teaching Thing 3 to iron a man’s shirt).

*travel tip —> there is parking under the Plaza Mayor, good news for the elderly tourist. We got a late start but headed to the “El Rastro” Sunday market near the Plaza Mayor. (More on the market in a later post.) The GPS, however, does not account for the construction in the area (Madrid is making a bid for the 2016 Olympics) so keep your wits about you and take a map. Most of Spain is closed on Sundays except the touristy Plaza Mayor. As we were leaving for the day, I saw a nicely dressed grandmother, clutching her toddler grandson, go behind a garbage can en plein vue of the Plaza, where thousands of tourists gather at restaurants ringing the square to drink beer, gnaw on olives, and contemplate the fates of those burned at the stake centuries upon centuries ago. “Oh no!” I thought to myself, “Say it ain’t so!” But yes, she pulled down his pants and you know the rest of the story. Some things never change. At least we didn’t hear anyone hawk up a lung and spit out the contents.

*For the month of September, I will be giving you a Spanish word a day. Use it in a sentence today so that when you come visit me you will be well-equipped. Today’s word = casa, meaning house. Mi casa es tu casa. I am an ama de casa (housewife). There, that’s two words. We’re starting off slowly.


Happy Birthday to Baltimore Sue and Davanna! If you feel the need to relax with some yoga in Puerta Vallarta, do yourself a favor and check out www.davannayoga.com for a class.


Filed under Birthdays, Family, Fine Dining, Friends, Life, Misunderstandings, People, Sightseeing, Travel