Sunday, December 30, 2007

Out With the Old, In With the New

I guess it’s time to start blogging again. It’s hard to blog about Christmas after Christmas because once the day’s over with, I’m ready to move on. My fake tree is already nestled in its box.

Despite the 100 degree summer weather, we had a great (albeit sweaty) Christmas; so, I’ll share just a few memories.

We made cookies:

Pedro thoroughly enjoyed his first Christmas:

Guapo had to lay with poor Juan Carlos (4 ½ yrs) until he had cried himself to sleep Christmas Eve; he was so worried about some old geezer coming into our house. He kept saying, “I’m so shy about Santa, I’m so shy,” and, "My room's too close to the Christmas tree. He's going to get me!"

My mom completely replaced the goodie bag the mean lady took from me at my book club Christmas party, enabling us to have real stuffing for our Christmas dinner:

...and I reciprocated by giving her the lame Unicef place mats that she claims she wanted:

But, I have to say, Christmas here in the Southern Hemisphere was a little weird. I’m not sure if it’s because of the weather, or they just don’t do big Christmases here, but it’s got a whole different, less important feel. Kind of like a "let’s-have-a-bbq-and-a-brewski-4th-of-July" sort of feeling. There were fireworks at 4 am sharp that neither Pedro nor I cared for.

The real holiday around here is not Christmas but New Year’s. Things are kicking into high gear in these parts.

The beach is amazingly full of people:

On New Year’s Eve everyone goes to the beaches dressed all in white. Copacabana beach is expecting more than 2 million people. When I first heard about the white, I was picturing people dressed in white t-shirts and shorts, but apparently people get all fancied-up to see in the New Year. Here are some displays from local clothing stores:

We may don some white clothing tomorrow and check out the beach with the kids tied to us so we don’t lose them in the crowds, but other than that we will be chillin’ on our balcony watching the fireworks.

Last but not least, here’s my favorite sign I’ve seen this holiday season that pretty much sums up the attitude here in Big City, Brazil:

It means, “Wishing for peace and clean beaches in 2008”

Happy New Year's!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas Update

It's already December 21st. Three days until Christmas Eve. It's gone fast, don't you think? My kids got out of school on Wednesday for FOR.5.WEEKS. Agggggghhhhhh. But, I'm not going to think about that little bit of information until after Christmas, one day at a time, right?

First off, a couple of thanks-first to my mom for providing my new header photo. It's only taken me 5 months in Brazil to change out my Mexico picture, so you'll probably be looking at a Christmas tree for most of 2008. The photo was taken from our patio; the light up near the top of the photo is the Christ the Redeemer statue under clouds.

And, thanks my great friend "K-squaredsmom" that I knew in Small Town Mexico. She was always so thoughtful while we lived there, always remembering everyone's birthdays and such and she hasn't stopped even though we now live on different continents. She sent this beautiful African (I'm assuming?) tablecloth to the States with her husband earlier this month when he and Gaupo had a meeting there:

I love it!

And now, on to my Christmas report

Just One Loser Activitiy

Last year, one of my very favorite activites was the prefab gingerbread house I found at Costco. It was easy, all-inclusive and fairly easy to clean up after. So, I spent the big bucks and ordered on and had it shipped to Guapo's office in the States.

It all started out fine. First we got the foundation up:

But shortly thereafter things started going very, very wrong:

Until we were left with this sorry excuse of a gingerbread house:

Word to the wise: this is not a project for those of us living in a tropical region.

Winner Activities:

Ornaments. I ordered several different ornament craft kits from Oriental Trading; the idea was for us to work on them together and then for the kids to give them to the kids in their classes. At first I thought it was a big mistake because they all required glue gun usage, and only a couple of my kids can handle that, but we just put everything in a box and worked on it when we had time whilst listening to Christmas music. (ok, I did end up staying up late one night to finish, but they were still pretty cute):

Then we wrapped each kid's ornaments in cellophane and they took them to school the last day:

(BTW: the flying pig??? was the most popular ornament)

Do I want to do this every year? No. But it was fun this year.

Little Christmas Shop:

I explained this project here. We did it last night and I thought it was really fun. The kids did chores all month, then used their "money" to buy presents (that I had previously purchased) for Guapo and me, my mom and each other:

They wrapped and labeled all of their gifts and placed them under the tree. Here's Juan Carlos wrapping:

They all knew what they'd bought for each other in about 4.5 seconds, but it was still a good time.

I think we'll try this again next year.

Christmas Books: Anyone looking for a cute Christmas story? Olivia Helps with Christmas has been my kids' favorite book this year.

Well that's it for now. We're in the final push, so I'm pretty busy. Hope everyone is enjoying the season!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Just FYI

I'm up to my neck in Christmas-I've started about three different posts about all of our recent activities, but with all the fun and with my mom here, it's been tough to actually finish a post. Hopefully tomorrow.

But, I couldn't not post this little bloggable morsel.

We have...our.own.personal. Ugly N@ked Man.

Yep. He lives in the building right behind ours.

Guapo's seen him several times but tonight was my first sighting. He was kicking a little soccer ball around his room. N@ked as a jaybird, as my grandma would say.

I obviously can't post pictures of him-this isn't that kind of blog, but I just had to let you know.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

She Made It!

My mom finally made it to Big City, Brazil. You would have never guessed by looking at her that she, and her three 70 pound bags, lived a 4 day nightmare (she even won a bottle of champagne on the plane for being the passenger with the best attitude). Here she is with her own personal-get-the-gringa-through-customs-without-any-hassles-guy.

She came in around 2:00 am on Saturday morning. As I said in my last post, Guapo and I traveled in style to the airport with our driver and our chase car. I had high hopes an awesome "chase car post."

But alas, as we headed down from our apartment at 1 in the morning, I realized just how lame I would look snapping away at our body guards and their car. Doesn't it seem just a tad "nouvo riche" for me to be taking pictures of them like an excited little teenager? It seemed to me, that if we needed a bodyguard and a chase car, then I should at least try to act in such a manner that would be deserving of such treatment. (never mind that I was wearing sweats that reeked of Pedro's spit up, flip flops and no make-up)

I tried for a few minutes and then decided maybe I could have it both ways: keep my dignity and get my shots for my online friends. This required me getting into some strange positions with my camera, or pretending to be taking picture of other things (at 1:30 in the morning).

Here's the best I could do.

1) the chase car (or me pretending to take a picture of Guapo. in the airport parking lot. at 1:30 am). I wasn't too impressed when I saw it, it was like a Ford Fiesta or something. But, here in Big City, they just don't do flashy cars here-they scream out "Car-Jack Me!!!"

2) The main body guard. One body guard came in with us while the other stayed behind in the car. Once in the airport, it was all very Bourne Identity-ish; there were people coming out of the woodwork all over the place that were apparently apart of the "team". I started to get worried that we were being set up and these people were going to rob us and then dispose of us.

It was super hard to get any kind of decent photo of him without him noticing (since it was his job to keep an eye on us). I had to just hold my camera like I was just relaxing, looking at all of the interesting things in the airport while I clicked away. Here are a few of the duds:

Here's my elbow, and the little guy with the arrow at him is the dude.

Here he is conversing with some of his "friends"

Finally, as we were walking out, I could take a better picture of him in his "Jack Bauer" like jacket, under which he hid his "heat".

3) And here's the production of fitting the bags into the car:

All and all it was uneventful (thank goodness) and we are so happy my mom is finally here (and hope she will visit us again in the future!).

Friday, December 14, 2007

In Flight (Finally)

I stopped giving updates on my mom's horrific travel experience because I figure I was jinxing myself. Here's a quick update.

  • Tuesday 8:00 am: my mom left her house in Colorado
  • Tuesday 9:00 am: Realized she needed, and didn't have, a travel visa to travel to Brazil
  • Tuesday 11:00 am: Flew the first leg of the trip to DC
  • Wednesday 2:00: received the visa (this was a minor miracle)
  • Wednesday 4:00: went to airport, couldn't get out that night due to a full flight, but was given a seat on Thursday night's flight
  • Thursday 7:00 pm: calls to tell us all is well, she was checked in, flight was set to leave at 9:00pm
  • Friday 3:00 am: finally made it to a hotel after the airline postponed the flight
  • Friday 9:00 am: back to airport
  • Friday 2:00 pm: FINALLY IN FLIGHT

She's set to arrive tonight around 2:00 am. Guapo and I are going to pick her up with Sergio; we will be accompanied by an armoured "chase car" with men that are packing heat (what's more bloggable than a chase car???). That time of night in these parts isn't that safe.

Always an adventure.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

No Room in the Stable

Kitty loves Christmas.

Remember last year? She loved the Christmas tree.

This year, much to Gaupo's chagrin, we have an artificial tree and Kitty's just not as interested. (Brazil just isn't in to cutting down trees like we are in the States) Here's Julio placing the star on the tree:

Despite the fake tree and lack of fresh pine scent, Kitty's making the most of the holiday season; she's found a new special Christmas place. Here's where I found her this morning:


Travel Nightmare Update II

The good news is that my mom did get a nice agent at the ticket counter in DC.

The bad news is that there was only one first class seat available last night and it would have cost an additional $5,00o.00.

The good news is that she got a seat on tonight's flight at no additional charge.

So, barring any other problems, she will be here tomorrow morning.


Thanks for all of your kind words and prayers!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Travel Nightmare Update

Well, it appears as if my mom will obtain a visa very shortly thanks to the help of Gupao's visa people here, my brother and my brother-in-law in D.C..

The problem now is that the airline wants to charge her $4,000.00 to change her ticket from last night to tonight.

Her only hope is that the ticket agent she gets at the airport is a very nice person and doesn't want to charge her $4,000.00.

Please be a nice person...please be a nice person...please be a nice person.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Note to Self

***Next time someone is coming to visit Brazil, remind them that Brazil is one of very few countries in the world that requires that Americans have a travel visa.

Ugggghhh. My poor mom got to the ticket counter today in Denver, 3 bags in tow, to check in for her flight to Brazil only to have the lady tell her she needed a visa. Getting a visa a slow process; you have to send your passport, forms and money to the Brazilian Embassy or one of their consulates via snail mail, then they send the visa back to you.

That little piece of information never entered my mind during the last 2 months. I feel horrible.

So, she is doing the first leg of her trip to Washington DC tonight and then going to the Brazilian Embassy tomorrow to beg and plead for a visa so she can travel tomorrow night. Luckily both Guapo and I have brothers there that are willing to help her out.

Crossing my fingers!

Monday, December 10, 2007

I Was Trying to Put the Past Behind Me

...until someone sent me this picture this morning.

At least I look gracious even though I was was thinking, "*&^$$^&*!@#@!#"

Ok, now I'll really stop trying to think of my Stove Top and cookie mixes.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


I am in a book club here in Big City Brazil. It's not your garden variety read a book and talk about it type. It's more of a traveling library, full of the latest popular titles. We meet twice a month to eat and check out new books. I love it because I can check out several books, and there's no pressure to finish if I don't like them, or if I just don't have time before the next meeting.

Today was our Christmas party potluck-luncheon. Gaupo's been out of town since Saturday, so my goal for the week is to stay sane long enough for him to walk through the door- then I can hole myself up in my room for a few hours to recover. Anyway, I decided to buy a salad to take to the luncheon instead of making one-one less thing to worry about, right?

So, this morning on the way to the party Sergio drops me off at a nearby restaurant/cafe that sells food to go. This is a place that I've heard good things about since we've lived there, but I'd never gone. So, I went in and took my favorite smallish pewter bowl with me so they could just put the salad in the bowl for me so it looked like I had prepared it. I picked out what the sales girl said was their best salad-some kind of potato salad. She asked if I wanted her to garnish it for me with lettuce leaves. Sure? Why not?

She brought out the lovely potato salad and gave it to the check-out girl. She rang up the price.

Do you want to know how much I paid for that potato salad today?

Just take a guess.

. . .a little higher

. . . higher

Try $60.35 USD

That's right.


I didn't even have enough cash on me. I had to go out to my car, quite lightheaded and nauseated by that point, and get a credit card to pay for potato salad. I totally would have high-tailed it out of there had the salad not been in my favorite pewter bowl.

Oh how I wish this were the only sad story I had to report today, but there's more.

I had to take a white elephant gift that was supposed to be valued at $25.00. I grudgingly broke in to my gift stash and chose a very nice talevara plate that I had bought in Mexico. We played the game where you draw numbers and pick in order, the person's whose turn it is can either chose a new present, or steal one that has already been opened. I drew #9. Not bad out of 15.

(Still stewing over the salad, I was considering sticking the remainder of it under the tree with a bow on it.)

#6, a Indian/Trinidadian woman chose my present. She was delighted with the plate, making me feel like it was worth its sacrifice.

When my turn came around I ended up with the best present there (ok. so I may have taken it from someone else, but we are just going to ignore this little part of the story and focus on my pain and my suffering, not the woman's that I took it from). I had in my possession a bag full of GOLD.


  • One can of Hershey's syrup
  • 3 duncan hines cookie mixes
  • 1 Betty Crocker carrot cake
  • 1 Betty Crocker cream cheese frosting
  • 1 box of Stove Top stuffing
  • 1 can of Spaghettios
  • 1 box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese

For those of you who live in the States, maybe you can't understand my excitement-but I haven't seen any of these products since we were home 5 months ago. You can't get ANY of that stuff here. And everyone (even the woman I stole it from) was all, "that's great, she's got 4 kids, they'll have a great time with that stuff"

I clung to that bag like my life depended on it. I still had to wait out 6 people. I made it safely through #10, #11, #12, #13, #14. Then we came to #15. I assessed the situation: an older Brazilian lady with no children at home and who hadn't shown any interest in my gift as it was being ohhhhhed-and-ahhhhhhhed over by the Americans.

I relaxed my death grip on the bag. I was in the clear.

But then, out of nowhere, #15 strolled over and took the talevara plate from the Indian/Trinidadian woman!

And then she proceeded to come and take my precious!

She's Indian for pete's sake. Have you tried Indian food? REAL Indian food? It's so spicy it makes me cry to even smell it. There's no way she and her one daughter can appreciate the American-ness of mac and cheese or spaghettios. Or stuffing??? I'm sorry but it's just not possible.

My head was still spinning so fast from what had just happened I couldn't think rationally. I could have stolen one of the other acceptable gifts, but instead, I grabbed the last package. It looked like this:

Unicef??? Hello Gabs! Do you know why it was the LAST PRESENT to be chosen??? A Unicef bag says, "It's the thought that counts! You're helping kids and that's what's really important!"

So, after sacrificing $60.00 on the stupid salad and one of my talavera plates I came home with this lovely set of napkins and place mats that smells funny:

Am I being a brat? Maybe.

They are so going to be re-gifted. And soon.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Christmas Activities

Here’s what I have so far this year. As I mentioned in a previous post, I made individual printouts of these activities (using pictures that included the kids where I could), laminated them:

and hung them on the wall:

Each day we chose one that is appropriate for the day and move it the other side of the wall. I plan to add new ones as I think of other activities to try. (there’s no need to display all of them if I don’t want to, and I don’t feel bad if there are more than 24 and we don’t do all of them)

Low-Energy-It’s-Been-A-Long-Day Projects

Color Christmas Coloring Sheets
Watch Christmas Movie (I’ve got 4 of these, the idea being that I actually sit and watch the movie and we eat popcorn together)
Watch Luke II
Update Christmas Tree*
Make Snowflakes out of coffee filters (SO EASY)
Write Letters to Santa
Choose Christmas Treats (look through cookbooks and magazines)
First Presidency Christmas Devotional

*Last year we did this mid-to-high-energy project from Family Fun:

Running up either side is a measuring tape; the idea is to measure and record your kids' height each year on an "ornament."

Now that we have it completed I just have to measure the kids, cut out the new “ornaments” and write their new height. We did this activity Sunday-it took all of 10 minutes. Margarita (9yrs) and Julio (7 yrs) both grew 2 inches. Juan Carlos (4 yrs) grew 3 inches and Pedro (9 months) was the big winner with 8 ½ inches of growth since his birth in March!

Mid-Energy-Let’s-Have-Some-Christmas-Fun Projects

Christmas Craft (3 of these)
Make Fudge with Grandma (my mom’s coming next week!!!)
Christmas Symbols Family Home Evening (actually low-energy if you plan it and then do the same thing every year)
Treats to Neighbors
Wrap Teacher Presents
Playdoh with Christmas cookie cutters (use store bought Playdoh for low-energy or make your own dough for a mid-energy project)
Cinnamon Ornaments
Christmas Story Reading Marathon
Walk or Drive to see Christmas lights (this is probably a low-energy activity, but here south of the equator it requires that I keep my kids up until after 8:00- disqualifying it as low-energy activity)
Gingerbread House (prefab is the only way to go for me-we did this last year and it was fun and easy. If I had to make my own gingerbread this would be an ultra-energy-I-might-not-make-it-to-2008 activity)
Ward Christmas Party
School Christmas Party(ies)

High-Energy-Pedro-Slept-Last-Night-and-I’ve-Got-Patience-Abounding Projects

Kick-Off December Party
Buy and Decorate Tree
Make Christmas Cookies
Make Christmas Treat (2 of these)
Sleep by the Tree
Christmas Eve Extravaganza (Luke II, Family Nativity, Fondue, Family gift Exchange)
Little Christmas Shop (see this post for more info)
Secret Santa Project

Other ideas??? I'm always looking for new, easy, fun ideas

Monday, December 03, 2007

We Interupt the Previously Scheduled Christmas Post...

I don't normally touch on political topics on my blog but I just wanted to say congratulations to my Venezuelan friends today.

We lived in Venezuela from 2001-2004 and it was both interesting and sad to watch the changes Chavez was bringing about in that country. As children in America, we grow up learning definitions of words like freedom, democracy, balance of power, peaceful transfer of power, and freedom of speech and religion, but I don't think I understood what a truly amazing place the US is until I saw those rights slowly being taken away in Venezuela.

Today is a very good day for Venezuelans!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Lessons Learned from Last Year's Plan December

We had our First Annual December 1st Christmas Party last night; it was a lot of fun. I think it will become a tradition. It was very low-key; it was just me and the kids and our good friends-not big enough to cause me undue stress. We ate pizza. I know that's not traditionally thought of as a Christmas food, however, if you order one with something green on it (we got arugula on ours) is very red-white-and-green Christmas-y.

I made a veggie tray with red, white and green veggies and then for dessert we did chocolate fondue. All very simple.

We watched Elf, sang a few songs using the bells and watched the lighting of the huge floating Christmas tree with its associated fireworks. Lots of fun.

Here's what I learned from last year's Plan December and how I am improving upon it this year:

1) December is a busy month.

Last year I tried in advance to say which project we were going to do on which day. Then things came up that I wasn’t expecting, or it was just a super long day and the project I had planned was too much for that particular day. And if it was on the calendar and we didn’t do it my kids were sorely disappointed.

This year I have greatly improved upon this. I made printouts of possible things we could do (using photos that included the kids where applicable), laminated them and stuck them up on the wall:

As we do the activities, we move them to the other side of the wall next to the advent calendar:

Doing it this way is better because:

1. The kids LOVE looking at the pictures
2. Because they are laminated I can reuse them each year (oh how I love laminating)
3. I can easily add more activities, or not display ones that will not be feasible during a certain year
4. We can pick an activity that is suitable for that given day.

2) Teacher gifts

Last year we made homemade cocoa in Mason jars for all of the teachers. It was cute but, it’s summer here so I don’t think anyone is going to want cocoa. And, I remember it being a little stressful-an activity that HAD to get done but that the kids abandoned after 5 minutes leaving a stressed out mom to finish the task.

So, this year I bought all of the teachers stuff from B@th and Body Works in July at the half-yearly sale. I got some smokin’ deals. That might not be so cool in the States where everybody knows how cheap you can gets stuff for, but here in Brazil, imported products like that are like gold.

To involve the kids, they will wrap the gifts and make cards for their teachers.

Ahhhh, much easier.

3) Crafts

Last year I scoured Family Fun’s website (which I totally heart) for cute crafts and then spent days out searching for the supplies (no Michael or Hobby Lobby anywhere in Mexico City). The shopping is even more limited here in Brazil so this year I ordered about 6 different crafts from I ordered enough so that the kids can pass out an ornament to each classmate at school.

I’m pretty sure these 3 changes will reduce my stress level quite a bit this year and for years to come.

In my next post I'll innumerate all of our activities.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Tis' the Season

It's almost December again-can you believe it?

I love Christmas time-everything about it-the music, the food, the presents, the shopping, the kids' excitement. I don't even mind that it seems to start earlier each year. If it were up to Guapo (and in his car, it is), we would all listen to Christmas music starting October 1. In the other countries that we have lived in (Venezuela, Mexico and now Brazil) things get started mid-October and it's not blamed on commercialism like it is in the States-it just starts early. I figure all the better-people always seem nicer during the Christmas season so why not make it longer?

What I don't like is to feel unprepared for the season, or like it rushes by me without having time to enjoy it with my kids. I have such fond memories of my childhood Christmases and it mainly has to do not with the presents I got (although I loved that too!), but with the things we did year in and year out like making Christmas cookies and fudge with my mom, wrapping presents and going to the same party every Christmas Eve. I loved that it was always the same

I want my kids to have great memories from Christmas so last year I came up with a plan for us to do something Christmasy every day in December. It sounds like a lot, but I just include things that we would normally do like "wrap teacher gifts" and "watch a Christmas movie" and divide them up over the entire month instead of trying to do it all in one week. I figure if I put some effort into it now, it will be easier in years to come because I will already know the majority of things that we are going to do.

So, today, I am going to cover the NEW (things we are trying this year). The next post will be about the IMPROVED (changes I am making from last year to simplify things), and the following will list our current activities. I think. I'm not really sure yet, but that's the basic idea.

Little Christmas Shop

I got this idea from a friend I made in Mexico City last year. She was a totally with-it mom of six-most of whom are grown now.

Throughout the year she would stock up on little toys and such that her kids would like to receive when they were on sale. Then, as it got close to Christmas the kids would start doing chores to earn up money to buy a present for each sibling and their parents. Then, one night shortly before Christmas the mom and the dad would set up a little "store" in a room in their house where the kids would go in one at a time with their money and buy presents (at a reduced price!) for everyone. (The mom and the dad would take turns showing the present for the other parent so it would be a surprise) The kids would leave with their purchases, wrapping paper, scissors and a roll of tape all in a black trash bag and find a quite place where they could wrap the presents.

The presents would be placed under the tree and another night they would have their family gift exchange.

Isn't that cute? I think it's a great idea. I really want my kids to learn about giving to others and not just receiving but in the past it has mainly been us, last minute, rushing to some store and them picking out things for each other and us paying for them. With this new plan:

  • The kids are thinking about giving for the entire season
  • I get free slave labor for a month
  • The kids get to choose the gifts from a selection that I picked out (When Guapo was in charge of Julio's shopping last year we ended up with live turtles)
  • Much less stressful than taking 4 kids to the mall-and probably a lot cheaper

We started doing the chores last week and although they don't love it now-I think they will love the end result. We are keeping track using a sticker chart:

Melodee Bells

Another friend gave me this great idea last year: Melodee Bells.

These are SO cool. Each set has 8 bells- one octave from f to f. They are brightly colored and each has the note name and also a number (1-8). My friend had 3 sets she would take to Christmas get togethers. She had familiar Christmas songs written out on poster board and below each word was both the letter note and the number associated with that word. Each person would get one bell (or two if they thought they could handle it) and we would sing and play the song. Everyone-kids and adults- loved it!

I told her I wanted to get some and she told me to get 4 sets because 3 was never enough. So I did; the link above was the cheapest price I could find. Not exactly cheap if you buy 3 or 4 sets, but she had had hers for years and years. I am planning on using them for Family Home Evening, any get togethers that we have or are invited to, and I am going to take them to each of my kids' classes for a holiday activity.

1st Day of December Party

Saturday we are having a very small (two other families) get together at our house to celebrate the start of December. It is going to be ea-sy. I'm getting pizza, making a veggie tray, buying drinks. We are going to watch the greatest Christmas movie ever (Elf) and try out the Melodee Bells. I'm sure I could make the food more "Christmasy", but Guapo will be out of town so I'm all about making things easy on myself. I'll use my Christmas plates-so it will be Christmas pizza.

Then, when it's dark, we are going to watch the official lighting a very large floating Christmas tree from our deck (complete with fireworks!).

Elf-Pizza-Bells-Big Floating Tree-Fireworks. Hopefully it will be a fun way to kick off the season.
Please share any cool ideas you have for Christmas this year!