Thursday, October 29, 2009

Blog Contest: When Will the Workers Leave?

You're not going to believe it, but work began on our apartment yesterday (October 28), only a month and 6 days after I first posted about it.

They were supposed to start Monday, but they didn't have any materials. All I've seen them use the last two days are little scrapers to remove paint off the wall. But, apparently they didn't have those on Monday.

Then they were going to start Tuesday but it was cloudy. (Yes, cloudy.) They said it might rain. There are 3 stories of problems in this apartment, only one story of which would be affected by rain.

Tuesday afternoon Guapo called and fired them. After many apologies and pledges that they would get their act together, they showed up on Wednesday (at 10:30). Gaupo told them they have one more chance and then they are gone, no matter what condition the house is in.

The contract says 20 working days until they're done.

If you would like to participate please tell me the date you think the workers will actually be finished. I should mention that there are two national holidays in Brazil in November (well, actually 3, but one falls on a Sunday this year).

I will send a pair of Brazil's famous flip-flops, Havaianas, to the person who is closest.

(Unless you're Ballerina Girl, in which case I'll have Guapo bring you back some toilet paper from his December trip to the States. :) )

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Expat Friendship

Having been the recipient of a couple of kind acts of service this week, I've been thinking about how expat friends demonstrate their friendship to one another.

It's different than in the States. When I lived in the States, opportunities were plentiful to help other young moms like myself. Sick? I'll bring over dinner. Jury duty? Let me take your kids for the day. Super busy? Let me give your boys a ride to cub scouts. Critical in-laws coming for a visit? I'll come help you clean your house.

These types of activities in expat life (at least in Central/South American expat life) are all covered by the "staff".

Food? Check (maid)

Childcare? Check (maid)

Errands? Child pick-up? Check (driver)

Obsessive Cleaning? Check (maid)

Of course I'm generalizing and exaggerating a bit; there are occasionally times to offer such services, but it is infrequent.

Then there are those times when "the staff" is sick (heaven forbid) and what usually ends up happening is that we offer up our "staff" in lieu of ourselves. "Sure, Sergio the Driver can pick up your kids" or "Do you need my maid for the day?" And we actually feel like we're sacrificing for our friends. Humorous and a little sad, I know.

So, how do expat friends show their love to one another?

The first way is by letting our friends vent. The majority of Ballerina Girl's and my conversations are about:

1) maid problems
2) house/appliance problems
3) school problems
4) Brazil problems

(not necessarily in that order)

Because we have similar circumstances, she , better than anyone else really gets what I'm going through. Sure, I occasionally vent here on my blog about stuff, but if I did it as much as I do in real life, you'd all think I'm a brat (which of course I'm not, but it may come across like that).

The second way is by sharing our American products. The things we bring back from the States are like GOLD and sharing them is a true act of sacrifice. I have to really like someone to share my goods with them.

This week one of my friends randomly brought me over not just one, but two bags of Reese's mix candies and a tube of Neosporin. She told me they were "extra" and would we want them? (yes please!) Nothing's "extra" around here (especially candy the week of Halloween)-there's no Target, so once you run out, you're out of luck until your next trip or your next group of visitors arrive.

It really meant a lot to me (way more than a tube of antibiotic cream would mean to me in the States :) ).

The third way is by offering suitcase space.

Suitcase space, like American products are precious in the life of an expat. We all know exactly how many bags and how much poundage we can bring in per trip. (If we travel as an entire family, we can bring in 12 bags containing 840 pounds, not including our carry-ons. If one of us flys first class we can increase that to 13 bags and 910 pounds.)

You have to be really careful offering up limited suitcase space to bring back something for a friend. You really have to trust that the person is not going to take advantage of you and have 15 Amazon boxes delivered to your house (or one of your relative's homes).

Ballerina Girl is traveling this week in the States. She emailed me and offered to bring me back whatever I needed (she knows I wouldn't take advantage). She has two kids here of her own and things she needs (she always brings in toilet paper which totally cracks me up) and for her to offer me some space in her suitcase made me feel loved :). (I ordered a book for the boys, a blueberry muffin mix and some Laffy Taffy)

I am blessed with good friends here for which I am thankful.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Deep Breath...Deep Breath

Just a little post to enumerate the reasons why this day has been totally annoying.

1) I spent 3 hours this morning searching a number of stores for the one type of nasty long-life milk that my family will actually drink, with no success. This is not an uncommon type of milk, it's just that apparently NO ONE has it right now.

2) The company that's going to fix the leakage problems finally gave the estimate and was going to stop by Thursday to see what materials they needed so they could start Thursday. They didn't show up Wednesday. Of course they didn't call or anything to let us know they weren't coming or anything. They finally stopped by Thursday afternoon. But did they start today? No!They couldn't possibly start a job of Friday, that would be crazy! Oh, and now they are estimating 45 days instead of 15.

Who's surprised?

3) We're having Julio's birthday party tonight and my maid's two boys showed up this afternoon unannounced and uninvited. When I asked why the didn't have school she told me "oh, they're sick."

Do I need to elaborate, or can you feel my anger seething through cyberspace?

Trying to look on the bright side:

1) Pedro's been accident free for days.

2) I crushed a 12 year old boy at tennis today.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Oh the Places You'll Go, Baseball Potty

My mom's visit is sadly drawing to a close. We've had such a nice visit and it has helped me out so much to have her here, and not just in the potty training department. Gaupo had some issues with his back last week that left him immobilized for several days and it just so happens that the kids also had the week off school- so had my mom not been here I for sure would have gone crazy trying to take care of him and amuse 4 kids in an apartment.

At least half of the "Hey Mom-watch this!" were converted into "Hey Grandma, watch this!" which was key in keeping my sanity.

But, let's be honest here, when you're potty training, life is all about potty training for a time (how long that time is depends on the kid). My mom selflessly went through the very demanding first week with me, keeping me enthusiastic about it when at times I felt like throwing in the towel.

And another special thanks to Margarita, she has done way more potty training with Pedro this week than I have. She has spent a lot of time sitting close to him while he's doing his business, reading books or playing airplanes. Once again, she has amazed me with her goodness. :)

So, let's have a look at some of our activities during the past week keeping in mind that potty training is an all-consuming task:

We visited the zoo

I wanted to put Pedro in a diaper so we could actually enjoy the zoo, but my mom insisted that he not be confused by wearing a diaper again. She even volunteered to carry his bulky baseball potty around the zoo with us.

It paid off, he was accident free (although he doesn't look to happy about being out in the open with me taking his photo, does he?).

The zoo here has your basic elephants, giraffes, lions, tigers, bears etc. but it is also LOADED with Brazilian monkeys. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Here my mom is with the kids, all very interested in a much less exotic animal: your garden variety stray cat.

We visited the jungle

There's a cool place near us called Parque Lage that used to be a coffee plantation and now it's a jungle-y park you can walk through. It has a cave the kids can explore and a waterfall you can climb up. We actually had never been until Guapo's brother and his wife came for a visit in May and now we go all the time.

Here's the cave:

Here are some cool frogs the kids caught:

Here are some hungry monkeys (finally, on her third trip down here, my mom got to see monkeys in the wild. I'm always talking about them and then when I take her to places where I see monkeys without fail, there are none to be found.)

And here's Pedro on his baseball potty:

My mom loves this picture because she thinks it looks like I'm praying that Pedro will hurry up and go.

Here's my mom, dutifully carrying the potty around again. It's got a flusher that makes a cheering sound every time it's touched in the slightest. Darn thing kept going off and driving us crazy.

We Went Biking

We went on a 45 minute bike ride around the lake and Pedro went in underwear and kept them dry.

Afterwards we all had a coconut and Pedro was able to hold it until we got home.

We Celebrated Julio's Birthday (Birthday Post Forthcoming, For Now It's All About the Potty)

Here's Pedro, enjoying Julio's birthday cake whilst upon the throne. I know, it's gross to eat on the pot, but it's even grosser to be cleaning up pee in the dining room while everyone else is eating cake.

When you gotta go, you gotta go.

We Went Swimming

Again, with the eating. I think it's a good technique-it seems to get things moving.

Ok, who's feeling sorry for Pedro here? None of my other kids have had their potty training chronicled for the world to see. I feel bad, but not bad enough not to post. I hope he forgives me. He's been a great little potty trainer. Very few accidents so far (and yes, he finally did go #2 on his potty. We left him alone in his room with lots of books and toys and it finally happened).

On Sunday, Margarita took him (and the baseball potty) out during Sacrament meeting to go to the bathroom. He came running back in a few minutes later and as he approached our bench bellowed out, "I POOHED. COME ON EVERYONE, COME AND SEE!" (he's become a little too accustomed to all of us encircling him and clapping when he "produces")We don't have a lot of English speakers at church so nobody found his outburst too amusing.

I owe all of this potty training joy to my mom; if it had been up to me, I probably would have waited until we got back from our Christmas trip at the end of January.

It does make me a little sad though-he's less and less of a baby every day.

Oh well, such is life.

Thanks for the fun visit and great memories mom, we love you!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It's Tough...

...potty training when you have bigger responsibilities:

I'd say Grandma's winning the potty training war- Pedro's doing great with #1; he gets lots of practice since he seems to go every 3 1/2 minutes. Number 2 has yet to be released into his potty.

Please advise- how do we get him to do #2 on the potty?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

One More Sleep

I'm so excited, my mom just left Denver (where it is 24 degrees and snowing) and is on her way here to visit us. She's the greatest visitor we have- this is her 3rd trip in just over 2 years. Another reason she's the best? She's been receiving all my Amazon packages and buying goodies of her own for us-2 full suitcases worth.

Hopefully it will stop raining here at some point; it's been pretty constant now for I don't know how many days-3? 4?They're all blending into one, long, dreary day. The kids are off school next week (there're two Brazilian holidays during the week, of course requiring an entire week off school), so being stuck in the apartment all together could get a little...cozy.

Here she is earlier this week, out on a bike ride:

Do you know what she wants to do while she's here? Potty-train Pedro. I think she's crazy as potty training pretty much my least favorite parenting activity so far, but I'll give it a shot with her. The kid does NOT want to sit on the potty and he's probably our most stubborn kid. She's armed with potty treats and potty presents, so we'll see.

But, at least for now, the score is even: Grandma 0 - Pedro 0.

I'll be sure to keep you updated.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Confessions of a 1st Grade Room Mom

Sorry, I don't really have any confessions, it just sounds a lot more interesting than:

  • How I Got Bullied into Being a Room Mom
  • Why I Hate Being a Room Mom
  • Remind Me NEVER to be a Room Mom Again
Juan Carlos' first grade class had no volunteers for a room mom. I have avoided that job like the plauge ever since the one and only time I've ever done it; it was for Margarita's kindergarten class long ago, back in our Venezuela days. But when his very nice teacher begged me to do it and promised me she would ask nothing of me, that I would be a room mom in name only, I warily accepted the position.

Why don't I want to be a room mom?

1) I hate planning parties
2) I hate when other people complain about the parties I've planned when they offered no input or support in the first place. (I've had a little experience with this)

Well, it's true, she has asked nothing of me in my two month term. The PTA President is an entirely different story. She and I are good friends, our daughters are best friends so when I complain about her demands, I do it with love in my heart. And, it's not her fault the Children's Day Ice Cream Social and Teacher's Day with its accompanying parent-provided Teacher's Appreciation Lunch fell in the same week this year, leaving me to collect the many items that my class was responsible for.

It's almost as if parents didn't enjoy receiving my daily emails imploring them to send in this many kilos of sprinkles and that many kilos of M&M's, a half dozen pasta salads, and, oh yeah, enough money to get two decent presents for the kids' teachers.

Do I like being responsible for a group gift?

Ummmm, NO.

When I asked for suggestions, several people recommended buying clothing or handbags for the teachers. Ok, if any of you know me, you know I have a problem with shopping (other than at Target and other stores that have carts), fashion, trends, etc. I would NEVER in a million years purchase a handbag for someone else. So why that might have been a perfectly acceptable suggestion to someone with a normal level of fashion sense, it made me break out into a sweat.

I ended up going with a gift certificate to a popular bookstore here. Gift certificates are not as mainstream here as they are in the States, so I had to really do some ground work to find an acceptable store that offered them. I added a nice lotion gift set and baked some banana bread. The teachers both seemed happy with their gifts (If they were hoping for a nice handbag, they hid their disappointment well).

It was worth all of the frustration when I saw how pleased they were to be recognized and how excited the kids were to know their parents were all apart of the gift (well, most of their parents, but we won't discuss names right now). I really have a deep respect for good teachers; especially early education teachers-I could never do it and I'm glad there are people who can and even seem to enjoy it.

So, I'll be room mom to help them out and I'll try not to complain too much.

(Well, maybe just one more little thing and then I'll stop complaining; just when I thought I could relax until the Christmas party, it's one of their birthdays and I have to send a cake in tomorrow.)


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Why I Fear for the Olympics

Remember my post about the ceiling in Julio's and Juan Carlos' room?

That was 2 weeks ago today. Would you like to see what it looks like now?

The main problem area is larger, a lot of the drywall has fallen off; the red arrows are pointing to areas that are now bubbling up (down?) and dripping water.

What has been done to fix this problem?

Ab-so-lute-ly NOTHING.

Let's review timeline of events, shall we?

Three weeks ago:

The problem starts.

Many calls were put in to the owner of the apartment, as she, under Brazilian law, is to have a say in who fixes her property.

She doesn't answer her phone. Her husband doesn't answer his.

Two weeks ago:

Guapo has someone at his office find a reputable company to come out and take a look at the problem. They come out the day of my last post about it, and tell us they will send someone the next day to take the measurements to do the estimate.

Guapo finally gets a hold of the apartment owner. She is irritated with us that we have "waited" so long to call her, implying that it is now our fault that this is such a big problem. She insists on sending out her guy to check things out. But of course, he can't come until the next week.

He finally comes and says the same thing the first guy said, basically that the whole apartment is falling apart and it needs to be redone. It's raining the day he comes and he says he has to wait until it's been dry a few days to see if it drips when it hasn't been raining, even though I already explained to him that it had been dripping for 2 weeks rain or shine. I mean, who am I to know about such technical issues as dripping water? He tells me he'll come Monday if it is dry over the weekend. It was dry.

He NEVER came back.

1 week ago:

The landlady and her husband are once again unavailable.

The estimate guy from the "reputable" company finally shows up. He promises the estimate the next day. Although Guapo's secretary has called every day since then, they still don't have an estimate for us.


No Landlady. She knows we have a serious problem and she won't answer her phone or call us.

No Estimate.


We are now in the process of looking for another "reputable" company, but we will just be starting over from square 1 (or -1).

The rent is being withheld from the landlady. She'll eventually call as we pay a lot every month.

My blood pressure is now up from writing this. I have to go find my happy place now. All I can do is laugh, right? I can't believe I was ever worried about having workers in the house.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Dog Church

We didn't have church today; twice a year we have what's called "General Conference" where the entire church watches a broadcast via satelite or Internet given by the general leaders of the church. Because of the time difference, it doesn't start for us until 1:00 in the afternoon, so we took advantage of the morning and went out to the Lagoa, a lagoon a block away from our house, to check things out. Since we were all going together I decided to chance it and take the good camera; I figured the large group of us might deter someone from ripping it off my neck as they rode by on a bike. I got lucky and am still in posession of the camera (and my neck).

The big kids rode their bikes which was slightly traumtic for Juan Carlos who just learned to ride this past summer. You can see how many people were out and about:

As far as I know, as a group we only caused 1 near accident. Not bad.

As we approached the dog park, we noticed a lot of commotion and we figured it was some kind of dog competion. We pulled over to check it out:

Lots of dogs. Lots of people. They all seemed to be in a line waiting for something.

Turns out it was a religious service for animals, with what appeared to be a priest and everything (everything including a guy with a blue dog ears hat and a microphone):

"Blessing of the Animals":

While the priest individually blessed each dog, the blue-eared man was screaming into a microphone about why we should buy a particular brand of flea medication. Over and over and over.

It was all very interesting.

Have I ever mentioned how much the people around here love their dogs (ummm....obviously)? There are dogs everywhere. And not just any dogs. Lots of purebreads. Not a lot of mutts in these parts.

They get to drink cocounut water straight from the coconut after their walks:

Here's a couple walking 4 of some kind of Yorkie. We thought her tatoo on the back of her calf was also a Yorkie which would make her some kind of serious Yorkie freak, but unfortunately, it was just a scary looking cat (click the photo if you'd like to see for yourself).

These little whippets are all over the place. They always cause me a little bit of menal grief because every time I see one, the first thought I have is about how easily I could snap their little legs in two. I have never and would never hurt an animal, so this always bugs me. There's just something about those little teeny legs...:

We finished with the dog services and headed over to the dock where we feed the fish all of our old bread:

Today there was this cool bird their fishing for our fish. He (or she) had quite a lunch catching the fish that were gathered to eat our bread.

On the way home we saw a little pick-up baseball game:

...and really good water skier:

and then the kids climbed their favorite branches:

I hope your your weekend was wonderful. :)

Friday, October 02, 2009

*Apparently No One Cares What I Think

So Rio won.

I am shocked, really. It was pretty exciting here those last few minutes and then everything errupted when they announced it; cars honking, people cheering in the streets. This place will be partying all weekend. I just hope Guapo can make it home from work as he has to pass through Copacabana where somewhere between 500,000 and a million people gathered for the announcement.

It's exciting for Rio. If there's one thing they know how to do, it's host a party. They are definitely a warm, welcoming, energetic people that love to have a good time. Hopefully all of the other little issues like infrastructure, organization, and crime will come together over the next 6 1/2 years. (I'm not holding my breath though)

Today's the Day

Today it will be decided where the 2016 Summer Olympic Games will be held. Rio is one of four bidding cities.

Work today in the city is "optional" for all workers. Why this annoys me so much I'm not sure, but it does. Public schools are closed, so I've got my maid's two kids here today for a "visit" which always makes my day a little more...high strung. A half a million people are expected on Copacabana Beach for the announcement this afternoon.

What do I think? It's a beautiful city and I think it would put on a great show, what with all of the Carnaval experience, but I think they'd be crazy to award Rio the Olympics. The main reason?


It's awful here-and it only gets worse during peak tourist times so I can only imagine what it would be like with such an influx of people. I don't ever blog about the crime we see here because 1) you'd all think we were insane for living here, and 2) I don't want to jinx myself, we've been pretty lucky so far. But I know, personally, many people who have had bad stuff happen to them. Fun stuff like armed robbery, car-jackings, attempted kidnappings. And those are just to people I know-there are worse things that happen in our area that I hear about, but don't actually know the people.

And we live in a "good" part of town!

So, we'll see. Today at 1:00 our time. I imagine if they win the entire next week will be an "optional" work week.