Thursday, December 26, 2013

Last day in Brazil

Hi there.  I am alive.  I did make it through.  I will not lie:  it has been rough.  There have been tears, and exploding microwaves, payments made in the nature of thousands of reais, broken glass, and promises unkept.  Moving is never easy, but moving internationally is a whole other challenge.  My husband is hoping that they let us out of the country tonight.  We've been told for 2 years that our permanent visas have been approved, and our names have been published, but we haven't yet been called to go to the Policia Federal and pick up the documents.  On December 23rd at about 4:00 pm, my husband realized that our "protocol" (i.e. little piece of paper that is very important) has expired, and there wasn't time to renew it.  My hope is that this is not an issue to leave the country.  But one never knows with these kind of things.  So send up some good thoughts tonight at about 9:00 pm that it all get works out.  

But we did get out of our apartment.  We sold everything except for 12 suitcases and the cello.  We delivered the car to it's buyer.  We have no keys left.  We have said goodbye lots of time, and laughed and cried with good friends.  We are going to miss this place that has been home.  With all it's challenges and cultural idiosyncrasies, it has been our home and and we made our place here.  Before everyone wakes up this morning, I'm going to go into the kitchen and wash and cut a deliciously ripe Haden mango.  I'm going to eat the whole thing by myself, celebrating realized dreams, and thanking God again for the all that I've been given.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Moving sale

Venda-se! Ainda tenho uma mesa com 6 cadeiras, uma secretária, duas camas, uma mesinha, artigos de cozinha, livros e arte para vender até o dia 13 de dezembro.

For Sale! I've still got things for sale: a dining room table and six chairs, a desk, two beds, kitchen items, art, books. Look here: 

The best way I've found to sell things here is by posting nice pictures on Flickr and then making a google doc to keep things organized.  Garage sales don't happen here.  Feel free to spread the word!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

We're moving

I've been trying to think of some nice, creative way to announce our departure, but I've been just too busy.  We're moving to the United States.  There were many factors involved in our process of making our decision, and the main factor is that we want to be closer to our families.  We moved to Brazil with the hope that we could show our children a different culture, to give them the experience of seeing a different part of the world, and to give them the chance to learn the language and hopefully thrive within another culture.  I would have to say that for the most part, we have learned that.  And I feel pretty proud of the fact that we have a good car, a nice apartment, and we are mostly satisfied with the schools the children attend.  We have figured out how to make a life here, and that is an accomplishment.

And now we are leaving.  Are we crazy??!!???

Probably.  But I would venture to say that everyone is a little crazy.  But I don't want to address that topic here.  My husband and I feel like we've had the chance to teach our children one of our values by living in Brazil.  And now it's time to show them that family is very important.  We have been saying it, but now we can show it.  And we are demonstrating to them that sometimes family is so important that we willingly and joyfully make sacrifices.  

Here are some of the details--
Date of departure from Brazil:  December 26
Last night we will sleep in our apartment:  December 12 (the rest of the time will be spent between friend's houses and hotels)
Where we will move to?  Cashmere, Washington
What we are doing for Christmas?  we don't know
What I will do for work?  look for a position in a school, and work on certification/a master's
What the husband will do? TBA
What the kids will do?  go to school
How we will keep up the Portuguese?  find some Brazilians, Skype, videos, books
What will happen to the hamster?  a friend is taking him
Have we sold the car?  yes
Can anyone rent our apartment?  talk to Adimoveis
Want to buy our stuff?  Send me an email, but most of it is sold.  I don't deal with Correios, so I don't ship.

I'm feeling pretty overwhelmed with the sheer volume of stuff I have to do in the next month, especially before we move out of our apartment.  Moving out of an apartment in Brazil is a pain in the hiney (you have to pay a lot of money and paint and fix everything).  And then I have to do report cards, help with 3 talent shows, 2 graduations, do all my normal work, help my children with their final projects, and take care of all the normal things of life.  Not to mention that it's VERY important for the children to have time to say goodbye to their friends, so I'm scheduling parties, sleep overs, final play dates and good bye presents.  Aaaaaahhhh!  

So, all to say, you may not see very much of me in the next month. But my husband has taken to blogging, so read what he has to say here.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Açaí (ah-sah-eeee)

I can't believe I've never posted about açaí before (besides including it in the top 100 foods list)!  Açaí is a berry/fruit that grows on the Açaí palm, which is native to the Amazon.  It is usually served as a juice or a puree, sweetened with honey and mixed with yogurt, granola and bananas.  It is delicious, refreshing, and has lots of healthy antioxidants.  It is more common in the Northeast, but it can be found all over Brazil, and is a popular afternoon snack, served at ice cream stores or snack shops that specialize in smoothies and salgados (salty snacks).  

In the past 6 months or so, we've noticed a sudden increase in the amount of these snack shops in Belo Horizonte.  They are popping up everywhere, and they usually have the same kind of signage (a rectangular sign with images of fruits in the background) and the açaí included in the name of the store. I think that there is a new chain in town, but now people are piggy-backing on the idea, and without much creativity.  In fact, I've seen at least one store open RIGHT NEXT to another new store.  My oldest daughter loves to tell me all the names of the different stores, because some of them are just downright silly.  Here's a list of what she remembers:

1.  Rajaçaí--the açaí place on Avenida Raja
2.  Megaçaí
3.  Daçaí
4.  Taçaí
5.  Topaçaí
6.  Refresçaí
7.  Savaçaí--in Savassi
8.  Praçaí
9.  Peçaí
10.  And our favorite, Thaçaí, because Brazilians have a very hard time pronouncing the "TH" sound.

If I opened my own açaí place, I would called it "Saci açaí" (pronounced "saw-see-ah-sah-eeee") and have a picture of Saci frolicking amongst the fruits, eating açaí.  Anyone else have a names they can add to my list, or a creative name for an açaí business?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Suco de Cupuaçu

I mentioned in my last post that I had Cupuaçu ice cream, and that inspired me to try out some different flavors of fruit pulp to make juice.  We tried the Cupuaçu blended with water and sugar.  A little bit tangy, but refreshing and enjoyable.  

Cafe do Mirante

Me and my sister, "mirante" in the background
My sister is here visiting, and she loves coffee.  Her love of coffee has rubbed off on my husband.  So we decided to visit a coffee farm while she was in Minas Gerais.  Unfortunately, due to our schedules, we couldn't plan a return trip to Fazenda Cachoeira, but several friends recommended Cafe do Mirante in Santo Antonio do Leite, which is relatively close to Ouro Preto (about an hour and 1/2 from Belo Horizonte).

I was able to schedule a tour via email (in Portuguese, but they were very quick about getting back to me).  For R$14 a person, we got a tour of the coffee farm, to see the production and storage area, sample the coffee, tour the distillery (alimbique), sample some cachaca, and tour the pousada.  The kitchen was closed, so we weren't able to eat there, but we brought a yummy picnic and enjoyed it on the grass yard with a beautiful view.
Picking Jabuticaba
The woman who made our sample of coffee was great, and we REALLY enjoyed the sample (her method was a surprise, and a little bit of a shock,but so worth it).  I also got to mark something off on my Brazilian bucket list: pick jabuticaba fresh off the tree!  November is the month to harvest, and there were  a few trees at the pousada.  It's delicious!
The library bus at Jeca Tatu

On the way back to BH,  we stopped at Jeca Tatu, a restaurant/museum unlike anything we've ever seen before.  There are several old American school buses that have been converted to rooms that hold books, memorabilia, old records, and all sorts of fascinating stuff.  Well worth the stop.

We also stopped for ice cream at Arte e Manha.  There were signs everywhere along the road, advertising their unique ice cream flavors, such as violet, guava and cheese (romeu e julieta), rose, and many unique Brazilian fruit flavors.  I had graviola (aka soursop) and cupuaçu (tropical rainforest fruit somewhat related to cacãu) and seriguela and cajá.  My sister had the goiaba e queijo.  I'd highly recommend any of they unique flavors.

We had a great day!

Monday, October 28, 2013

The dilemma of raising children in Brazil

Write on the board the word MORALS
They stole the chalk, teacher!

I'm a little behind, but this article was circulating Facebook a while back:

Now I can't say I've "studied" the article, nor that my quick scan of it has allowed me to fully understand the depth of the issue.  But I can say that I think I get the main idea, which is that Brazilian parents face a significant challenge while trying to raise their children.  Parents want to (and have the responsibility to) teach their children values, but they are doing so within a country where the "Lei de Gerson" (take advantage of everything and everyone whenever you can).  Essentially, those of us living in Brazil know that you really have to be looking out for number one here, because it really is a dog-eat-dog world.  The expectation is that others will take advantage of you.  They will take your son's stuffed animal one minute after it falls out of his bedroom window (true story, unfortunately).  Salespeople will over charge you for inferior products.  Those trying to buy a car will try to falsify documents (hence, the elaborate laws around verification and the existence of Cartorios).   They will throw trash in front of your apartment.  Elected officials steal money without shame.  Now, I realize that I'm speaking in generalizations, and there are exceptions, and there are many, many Brazilian citizens who are making the hard choices to be think of others before thinking of themselves.  But the article interviews parents who are afraid that if they teach their children morals, if they teach their children to obey laws, to follow the rules, to be honest, that their children will fall behind.  Parents fear that their children will be taken advantage of if they don't learn how to operate within the reality of the society.  So which is better, to uphold a higher morality, or to teach your children to be shrewd and successful within a culture of corruption?

As a foreigner with children, and as a teacher working in a school, I find this a particularly interesting challenge, and a cultural issue.  I'm not trying to make a value judgement here (I could, but I will avoid).  But I think that we face a difficult situation.  I want my children to grow up to be honest, responsible citizens who care for those around them.  And yet, we live in a culture where we are daily faced with a multitude of examples of dishonesty, irresponsibility, and a total lack of respect for others. How do I reconcile this?

And apparently the "levar vantagem" (take advantage of) came from this:

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Museums: CCBB Belo Horizonte and Escher at Palacio das Artes

My husband and I had the chance to see the exhibit ELLES:  Mulheres artistas na coleção do Centro Pompidou (ELLES:  Women Artists from the Centre Pompidou, Paris).  It was the opening exhibit for the new Banco do Brasil Centro Cultural in Belo Horizonte.  The museum itself is nice; the Banco do Brasil updated one of the old, historic buildings in the Praça Liberdade.  But the structure seemed a little cold and basic to me.  Nothing spectacular.  I don't want to be a downer, because they did remodel it, and it is nice.  It's just not super nice.

But the exhibit was AMAZING!  The exhibit started in Paris, and then went to Seattle, and was here in Belo Horizonte.  The exhibit "tells" the story of modern/contemporary art through the work of women artists.  My favorite pieces were by Suzanne Valadon, Guerrilla Girls, and Frida Kahlo.  The Kahlo was very small, but it was humbling to stand before a work by an artist that I admire so deeply.  The exhibit is over now, but it would be worth it to keep an eye on upcoming exhibitions.  Check it out here.

Dora and Sebastian 

The other exhibit that we visited is at the Palacio das Artes, called "A Magia de Escher" or "The Magic of Escher."  It is still showing until November 17th, and if you have a chance, you should check it out. It's a great compilation of works by M.C. Escher, very kid friendly, and very interactive.  And there are several parts that you are allowed, even encouraged to take pictures.  My math-loving kids loved the tessellations, optical illusions, and different perspectives.

I'll also mention that the newly remodeled Cine Theatro Brasil recently opened in downtown Belo Horizonte.  I haven't been yet, but it looks very nice.  I also just read that they are showing "Guerra e Paz" ("War and Peace") by Brazilian Artist Candido Portinari.  It is the last time it will be shown in Brazil before heading to Paris and then to return to the headquarters of the United Nations in New York, where the piece is permanently displayed.

Some great things are happening in the arts in Belo Horizonte!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Van Dyke Mango

The sacalão had a new variety of mango.  It was advertised as the "Vemdek" (if I remember correctly) but it's actually a Van Dyke.  It was grown in Florida (most likely a descendent of the Haden).  It isn't very fibrous, so it's not very stringy, which is a plus.  The flavor is very sweet, and it doesn't have much of a bite or tangy flavor, which in my opinion, is a minus.  Not bad, but not great.  

Saturday, October 12, 2013


This is a sad post.  I've been thinking about how to write this for over a month, and I'm still at a loss.

We moved into our apartment in the Gutierrez neighborhood a little over a year ago.  Within a week of moving here, we started to notice Cristina.  She lived on our street, and she was....well, she was a character.  A very unique and eccentric person.  Some might say crazy.  But a wonderful Brazilian woman with a large and lovable personality.  She had 4 Dalmatians.  She liked to walk them without their leashes, and they were hyper and ran like crazy.  She yelled at them.  She wore biking clothes most of the time, as in spandex biking shorts, gloves, shoes with toe clips, and a bike helmet.  Sometimes she rode a bike. Most of the time she didn't.  Cristina talked to herself.  Everyone knew her.  She was friendly, and liked to talk to the children.  She didn't know that my Portuguese was limited, and most often I didn't understand what she was talking about.  I just smiled and nodded.  

On August 16th, she was out walking, like she usually did.  She was crossing Avenida Francisco Sá at the end of our street, and was hit by a car.  She refused help, even though she had been injured.  She returned to her apartment by herself, and passed away.  

There are so many things wrong about this.  There is a TOTAL disregard for pedestrians in this city. Cars do not stop.  Crosswalks are totally disregarded.  I know this is not the case in all of Brazil, but for some reason in Belo Horizonte pedestrians seem to have no rights.  Last year at Christmas, there was a big sign in our neighborhood that essentially read, "For Christmas, be kind and respect traffic laws." The city started a campaign about 6 months ago to raise awareness and to encourage drivers to respect traffic laws.  I did see an article (can't find it now) talking about the INCREASE in injuries and deaths during the campaign (not saying that the campaign was causing it, but that the campaign wasn't really working).  As a person that cares about the condition of our planet and a concerned citizen, I love walking and try to walk as much as possible.  We moved to Gutierrez so we wouldn't have to drive so much.  My husband uses public transportation to get to work.  The children complain all the time, but we are trying to show environmental responsibility and to take care of our bodies by exercising.  

But I am afraid.  I have become much MUCH more concerned about crossing the street.  I don't trust any drivers.  I know that pedestrians do foolish things at times, but the ones with the power here are the drivers.  I really REALLY don't understand what drivers are thinking speeding up when they see a mother and two children in a crosswalk.  I don't understand why 20 cars speed by when I'm attempting to cross a busy intersection without a light.  I don't understand why cars run through red lights, or when motorcycles start entering the intersection before the light has changed to green.  From my perspective, it just seems like drivers don't care, and they are willing to put other people at risk for their own desires. And I don't understand how someone could hit a pedestrian, and allow her to walk away, when it is clear that she is not well.   There is too much of an attitude that "everyone does it" and too much cutting of corners and disregarding common sense.  Honestly, I think what needs to happen is fines and stricter laws.  Before the Lei Seca, it was common to see people driving down our streets holding a beer.  But now motorists know that if they are caught with even a trace of alcohol in their system, there will be serious consequences, and drinking and driving has decreased.  The only way to really change behavior is to create stricter laws, and then to ENFORCE them.  But it seems like pedestrian deaths are not important enough to Belo Horizonte for this to happen.  In the meanwhile, I am going to stop at crosswalks for pedestrians.  I am going to yield to walkers.  And I'm going to educate my children, and any one else who will listen. 

Sinto falta Cristina.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

an efficient morning

About to head to work, but had to brag to the world my readers about convenience in Brazil!  Yes, there are days when things come together efficiently!  This morning I was able to accomplish the following before 8:20 am

1.  Wake up, shower, get ready, make vitaminas for the children, eat breakfast.
2.  Respond to some emails.
3.  Go to the bank to get cash.
4.  Go to the grocery to get food and a few surprises for Dia das Crianças  (children's day, October 12th!)
5.  Go to the drugstore to pick up some things.
6.  Go to the corner hardware store to get a new chuveiro (shower head)

Now the husband is changing the shower head!  Hooray!

Saturday, September 28, 2013


Interesting, and in my opinion, accurate evaluation of things in Brazil.
I do disagree though, about protests during the World Cup.  I think that there will be protests.  And I also think that there is a degree of complacency among citizens post protest.  There was a wave of anger and people took to the streets.  And now?  I know change is slow to come, and is difficult, but I think that many people have become jaded (again), and have just resigned themselves to how it is.  Your thoughts?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Walking to work

Almost exactly a year ago, we moved to our new apartment.  I love our new apartment.  Here are some of the reasons why:

1.  It's not infested with termites.
2.  It's close to Dora's school.
3.  It's not molding (yet).
4.  It's spacious.
5.  It's close to everything (bakery, bookstore, grocery, bank, fruit store, ice cream, etcetera)
6.  It's relatively flat on our street.
7.  The neighbors are nice and actually helpful
8.  It's close to 2 of 3 Maple Bear campuses.

So I get to walk to work.  I love walking to work.  Today I saw this:

Yes, it's September 25th, time to start your Christmas shopping!!  Especially for overpriced, kitschy snowmen decor.

And I saw this:

It looks like melons growing on the tree trunk.  Any ideas of what it is?  Cacau?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Recommendation: Simon Reilly Hairdressing

Hi there!  Just got my hair cut by a fabulous stylist, and I highly recommend him!  He works in a salon, but also works from his home in Savassi.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Pronunciation guide

I love hearing how Brazilians pronounce foreign words.  The above image is how Brazilians pronounce brand names.  About a year ago I was listening to the radio, and I heard someone talking about the Brazil's "HONKING" in education, as in "o HONKING das escolas Brasileiras é...."  It took me a good 5 minutes to realize that "HONKING" is the Brazilian portuguese pronunciation of ranking. Other good pronunciations:

delivery =  deh leave a ree
Disney = jees knee
iPad = eye pad-gee
Tablet = tah bletch
Trash Pack (a toy my son likes) = trashy packy
rock and roll  = hocking hole

Any others that you like?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Fazenda Cachoeira

Matt and I have talked about visiting a coffee farm ever since we moved to Brazil.  We finally had the chance in July!  We decided rather last minute, and because July is a very popular time to vacation, the place that many people had recommended to us wasn't available.  So I had to go with what I could find on Google.  And we got very, very lucky!

Fazenda Cachoeira is in Santo Antonio do Amparo in the south of Minas Gerais.   Google maps says it is only 2 hours away which really means it is 3 hours away.  Getting to Santo Antonio do Amparo was easy, and it's a nice road (because it's a toll road).  It was a little tricky to find the Fazenda once we arrived in Santo Antonio, because there are no signs, and because we live in Brazil.  But since we have now lived in Brazil for 3 years, we my husband has kind of figured out how directions work and how to "feel" your way to the destination.  And once we arrived at the actual Fazenda, there were no clear signs as to where to go, and who was in charge, so we just had to wander around until we found someone who looked like they were in charge.  But once we found that person, we know we'd found a good place.

Mariana told us that the farm had been in her family for 5 generations.  We stayed in the main house, which had been built in 1870 something.  It had been renovated in the 1980s, but still had the Mineiro farmhouse charm.  Wood furniture, big doorways, lace curtains, and old fashioned keys in the bedroom doors.  There was a pool, hammocks, dogs, a game room with foosball and pool, waterfalls, hikes, beautiful views, bonfires at night, and horses.  The kids couldn't get enough of the horses.

We rode them around the farm, to the waterfalls, around the farm again, and the around again.  It was wonderful to watch the kids play outside, to get dirty, to run and laugh and explore.  It was the first time I'd been out of Belo Horizonte since January, so it was so refreshing and restorative.

Matt and I got to take a tour of the farm with Mariana.  It was fascinating to learn that Brazil is the largest producer of coffee in the world, and that Minas Gerais produces about 80% of all arabica coffee. We learned that for optimal production, coffee needs to to be planted at 1000 to 1100 meters above sea level.  We saw the cherries being dried on the terraces, and learned that during drying, the coffee needs to be "raked" 10 times a day to dry uniformly.  And of course, we drank some very delicious coffee.

Matt raking the coffee
I was able to make most of the arrangements via email, but I did have to make a phone call to clarify what meals were included.  It was a little hard to reach them because it was the peak of coffee harvest, so the owners were not only hosting guests, but also managing the harvest.   The packages include all meals and desserts (not drinks), and horse rides.  The owners speak some English, and a little French. Highlights for us were watching the sun set from the top of the coffee farm, walking on the coffee cherries (they make a very nice crunching sound), eating the fried sausage, and hiking to the waterfalls. We had a great time, and would highly recommend a visit to Fazenda Cachoeira.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Brazilian Independence Day

Yesterday was Brazilian Independence day.  On September 7, 1822, the Portuguese prince Dom Pedro (who was living in Brazil) cried, "independência ou morte!" and shortly after became the leader of the Brazilian independence movement.  How do Brazilians' celebrate their independence?  From my informal survey, it seems like most other holidays/Sundays:  lunch with family.

We didn't do anything particularly interesting, since we had a birthday party invitation and my husband had to play a concert (state orchestra+national holiday=husband works).  But two things happened on Friday that made me feel like celebrating this wonderful, crazy place that we are calling home.  

My oldest daughter started a new school this year.  It's been a challenging transition, because she actually now has homework and expectations about what she is supposed to learn.  This is good.  One of the expectations is that she has to write 3 short essays every week.  The topics vary, and some of them are as short as 4 sentences.  But it has been a very difficult process to convince her that she can do it.  In fact, just yesterday she spent 3 hours to write about 20 lines.  Arg.  But the good news is that her school had a Honors Assembly on Friday, and she received 2 awards.  The first was because she has the best grades in Math in her class, and we knew that she was going to get this award.  The second award was a surprise to us.  In preparation for 7 do setembro, her class had to write an essay about Brazil and what it meant to them as Brazilians.  My daughter wrote the best essay!  Not only is she NOT a Brazilian, but she has only been speaking Portuguese for 3 years!!  

And secondly, at the end of the assembly, Dora got to hold the flag.  They principal started playing the Brazilian National Anthem, and Beatrice turns to me and says loudly in English, "I LOVE THIS MUSIC!!"  Ah, love my little Brazilian children!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Porta dos Fundos in the New York Times

Opened up the NYTimes webpage today, and found the article on Brazil's most popular YouTube channel:

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Caixa d'agua?

Today there is a water "outage" in 350 neighborhoods in Belo Horizonte.  COPASA (the water company) is supposedly doing some work on a water plant to help increase with production.  The interruption in service was supposed to begin at midnight last night, and the water will be back before dawn tomorrow morning.  I just happened to see this because a Brazilian friend posted a notice on Facebook.  I wasn't sure at first about it (you know, some of those crazy Facebook/Twitter "news" reports).  But once I confirmed, I felt it my duty to spread the word.  I felt a little alarmed that so little was being done to notify the 2 million residents that they would be without water for more than 24 hours.  NO WATER!  I posted it on Facebook, and told our sindica (building superintendent).  Again, I was surprised by her blasé response.  She said she might post a notice in the building, but when I saw her later she said she didn't think that it would really affect us, because we only have 20 people in our building, and the caixa d'agua (water tank) should last the whole day.  

And this got me thinking about the caixa d'agua.  Practically every apartment building and house in Belo Horizonte has a caixa d'agua.  Why is this?  At first, I thought that these large water containers were the actual source of water for the residents, that is, a truck delivered water to the caixa d'agua.  But how the heck does the water get from the truck to the top of the apartment?  This is the faulty logic (stupidity) of the fresh-off-the-boat expat.  But after 3 years of living here, I still haven't figured out why they exist in such abundance here.  A brief google search didn't help much.  But here are my guesses:

1.  There used to be more frequent water outages.  The caixa d'agua is a remnant from these days when the water would randomly go out, and was insurance that there would always be a supply of water.

2.  Gravity.  Perhaps there isn't enough water pressure coming from water from the street, so a roof top container will provide the gravity needed to pump that water through the pipes.  

3.  Dengue.  Brazil really doesn't want to eradicate Dengue, and is committed to mosquito breeding.  

Ok, that last theory is a little crazy.  But most of what I found online were yahoo answers to questions like, "Why do I have to keep my caixa d'agua covered?"  and "why is it important to clean my caixa d'agua?"  Ewww.  

That being said, I have experienced the cleaning of the caixa two times (last crappy apartment, and current nice apartment).  We were without water for about an hour.  That was more hardship than was experienced today.  As far as I could tell, there was water all day, everywhere I went!  The pool at the club!  Nice long showers for all in our apartment today!  Our neighbors hosing down the sidewalks in front of their apartments!  The neighbor downstairs that ignores the rules and washes his car in the garage!

Anyone out there care to educate me about the caixa d'agua?

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Michael Palin's Visit to Belo Horizonte

What I should really do is catch up on some posts, especially about our trip in July to Fazenda Cachoeira, an organic coffee plantation in the south of Minas Gerais.  But in the meanwhile, this will have to do.  

Sebastian has a wonderful friend named Ian.  One time my husband mentioned to Ian's dad that he loved coffee.  Ian's dad is related to the owner of Academia do Café (which by they way, this process of making the connection to how you know something is SOOOOO Mineiro [something that people from Minas Gerais do]) and highly recommended a visit.  I visited their website the other day, and found this great video from Michael Palin's visit to Brazil in 2012.  I love the shots in the Mercado Central, and the fact that he ONLY visited Academia do Café while he was in our town.  Enjoy!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Macacos or São Sebastião das Aguas Claras

Hello!  Finally catching up on my posts from the July vacation.  It was a very, very nice vacation.  I enjoyed the kids.  I got to get out of town (hooray!), I read a lot, and I relaxed.  

One of the highlights was a day trip we took to nearby Macacos, or São Sebastião das Aguas Claras (one town, two names).  I first heard about it about 9 months ago from some friends who said they went hiking there.  I tried to find some info online, but no luck.  I mentioned to another friend that we were going, and they said that it was not really a great place for kids.  It has lots of Pousadas for couples getting a way for the weekend, but not a lot of attraction for children.  With that little bit of information, I decided to risk it.  Plus Matt was working, so I could spare him my crazy adventure thing and only irritate the kids.

You take the BR-40 going towards Rio (go past BH Shopping).  Take the exit for São Sebastião das Aguas Claras (google maps is very clear if you need more details).  There is also a bus (3915) that you could catch , but I don't know where it drops you off.  Once we got into town, we just followed the main road until we saw the creek.  There are signs everywhere that say "no parking," but since it was a Thursday morning, we took the risk.  

Thanks for carrying me across, mom.

That is a restaurant in the background.

The creek there is ok, lots of trash, lots of people coming and going, and the trail on the other side is dirty dirty dirty.  We walked for about 10 minutes before I decided that I'd seen enough empty beer bottles.  Not worth it.  

I convinced the kids to get back in the car, and explore some more.  We took the narrow dirt road that was on the other side of the creek (and the restaurant you see behind Dora in the above picture).  We drove for about 15 minutes, past several entrances for pousadas and fazendas.  Finally I came to a wide spot in the road, and I parked.  It was right by the entrance to Banana's Sitio:

Not sure what Bea is doing
The kids were hungry, but there wasn't really a "nice" place to picnic.  So we just climbed up the hill above where we parked and found a relatively flat spot and sat in the weeds.  There was lots of complaining and not enough napkins.  But I love me my picnics, and the view was great!

After that, we decided just to take the dirt road and walk for a bit.  It was a good thing we had stopped and parked where we did, because about 100 feet from where the car was, the road had been washed out, and it would have been impossible to go any further, not to mention to try to turn around.  There was lots of gravel, and a couple of tumbles (more complaining).  Lots of "where are we going?" and "I hate hiking" and "I'm hot."  But then we found this cool rock:
It was a kind of flaking, soft rock
And some flowers:
Funny how the biggest complainer looks the happiest in the pictures

We walked another 10 minutes or so, and we found the creek.  And it was beautiful!  A little trash, but it wasn't so bad.  We threw rocks in the water, made leaf boats, took our shoes off and waded, laughed, found cool rocks, and got very dirty.  It was perfect, exactly how I'd hoped to spend the afternoon.

Sebastian's shoes were black before the hike.
After a few hours of playing, we hiked back to the car and drove home in less than 45 minutes.  Next time we'll go back with Matt!

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Belo Horizonte is home to two professional soccer clubs:  Cruzeiro Esporte Club (ZEIRO!!!) and Clube Atlético Mineiro (GALO!).  You have one team you cheer for, and when the games are on it is popular to yell out the window.  Or let off fireworks.  Or honk your horn.  For those of you who are reading this who might be considering a move to Brazil, don't ever imagine that the cities here are quite, peaceful places.  They are loud, and when there are games, it is ear-splitting.

The past two days have been especially noisy.  Atlético, who's mascot is the Rooster (i.e. "Galo") was playing in the final game for the Copa Libertadores.  Thankfully, we were out of town for the last game that happened last Wednesday.  Atlético lost, but apparently that didn't make much of a difference in the volume coming fans.  On Tuesday afternoon, the horn honking (quarter, quarter, eight-eight, quarter pattern), and m-80 fireworks began.  But the game wasn't until 9:00 pm on Wednesday night.  My son is a Cruzeiro fan, and the rest of us just prefer quiet, so we were all hoping and praying that Galo would lose.  Bummer.

I fell asleep at about 11:30 pm, despite the raucous neighbors, but then when the game was over and Galo had won, it was like Christmas and New Years all wrapped up in one.  It was Atlético's first time wining this cup, so people were crazy!  I was two delirious to get the camera, but my friend Ling caught this:

We had more m-80s going off right outside our window.  

Despite my complaining, I actually don't mind it all so much.  But here's what bothers me.  My husband was almost late to work this morning because fans were celebrating at Praça Sete and bringing traffic to a standstill.   The other thing is that the Paraguayan team was staying at a hotel in Belvedere, and apparently people in the neighborhood decided to make LOTS of noise to disturb their sleep, hoping to affect the outcome of the game.  The noise and general craziness got out of hand, and some fans lit something that started a forest fire!  I understand that Atléticanos are passionate and excited about this huge win, but really?!?

But to end on a positive note, you may remember this picture I posted last December:  

Ronaldinho had been written off, but now with this win he's back in the limelight!

Ode to Estrogonofe

Creamy, wonderful meal
Creme de leite

Comfort with corn!
Sprinkled with batata palha
Crispy slivers of potato chips
Too much goodness in one plate.
A meal that everyone loves
I pay to have someone else make it for me and clean everything up.

Friday, July 12, 2013


Hooray!  It's winter vacation!  Dora has finished her tests, I finished teaching on Wednesday, Beatrice was given her first semester portfolio (the book that her teachers make to show what she has done this semester), and Sebastian watched 2 movies at school this week (what's the point in trying to learn at school right before vacation, right?).  We have about 3 weeks off from classes, and I'm looking forward to the break.  Matt has a fairly normal schedule, so we aren't doing any big trips.  But I do have some fun planned, so as to not repeat last year's winter vacation.  

1.  Go to the zoo
2.  Go to the artsy-fartsy Festa Junina at Escola da Serra
3.  Go to Inohtim
4.  Visit the Clube to go swimming
5.  Spend a few nights at a pousada (farm/bed-in-breakfast)
6.  Go to Macacos, a small town not too far away that is supposed to be good for hikes and waterfalls.
7.  Go to Serra do Cipo
8.  Celebrate Matt's birthday
9.  Spend time with friends
10.  Take advantage of some of the fun things that are scheduled around the city

I started by eating a HUGE piece of chocolate cake and cleaning out my closet.  So far so good!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Book Depository: an affordable way to get books in Brazil

Those of you who are faithful readers here know that I am cheap.  I've never enjoyed shopping, but I find it much more enjoyable when I can beat capitalism by paying as little as possible for the goods that I need.  This has proven to be a significant challenge in Brazil.  Inflation is a big reality (especially in the past year), and Brazilian sales can't even shake a stick at end of season, clearance coupon sales found in other parts of the world.  And then there is just the reality that most things are just more expensive here.

Since we've changed schools, we been receiving more birthday invitations to what I would consider "high end" birthday parties.  Maple Bear tends to attract a certain population, and that population likes to celebrate in a certain way.  Gone are the days of the homemade birthday presents that were made at the old artsy-fartsy school.  Along with birthday party invitations, comes the need to buy birthday presents.  The birthday presents that I wisely bought at Christmas on clearance have LONG run out, and for the past few months I've been resorting to buying presents at the local book store or mall.  And paying W A Y too much.  

But then someone posted a link on the BH Gringo Network for the Book Depository.  The thing that got me was that they have things on sale, and FREE SHIPPING WORLD WIDE!  Within minutes I had put USD$70 of books that could be given as presents (Klutz books, sticker books, board books).  I ordered on June 5th, and on July 3rd I had received ALL of the 8 books I ordered.  They pretty much ship everything individually, and it is mailed Media, so it takes longer.  So it came out to USD$8.75 per book, or about R$20.  Not only is the price right, but I got some unique, good gifts, as opposed to cheaply made yet expensive imports.  Hooray!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


The local sacolão (fruit/vegetable store) has been having some smoking deals on produce lately.  I don't know if all the months of paying through the nose for tomatoes has finally caught up with everyone, but  it's nice to see some real "sales" in Brazil.  One of the specials has been on mangosteen, and today I finally decided to buy one for R$1.50 (USD $0.66).  I first heard about mangosteen back at the Tempe YMCA, where there was a big poster for mangosteen juice right in front of the Stair Masters.  I guess Mangosteen juice has antioxidants and is supposed to be good for you.  But the main thing is that it's DELICIOUS!  Very sweet, very yummy flavor.  You have to kind of crack it open, and there are about 8 segments inside, some with a large pit that you can't eat.  I'm not going to start trading mangoes for mangosteens (mangosteenes?), but definitely a fruit that I'm glad I've experienced.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Vale Verde

Bea's class went on a field trip to Vale Verde, and it just so happened that it was on a day when it didn't conflict with my teaching schedule. So I offered to go as a Mom/Teacher. I've wanted to go ever since I read about it here.  It is an ecological "park" built and maintained by Vale Verde, a company that makes cachaça.   I'd heard it is beautiful, has good food, and has some fun activities for children. I was excited to go.

But I neglected to really prepare myself for the fact that it was a field trip. Thankfully I know all the kids, and so I knew where the challenges were going to come from.  But we started off on the wrong foot by forgetting one of the children at the school. And the money. Thankfully we were only 5 minutes away, but turning the tour bus around proved to take an extra 20 minutes, and made us all feel nauseous.  Bea's teacher got sick on the bus, and the other parent chaperones were good for nothing, so I ended up helping kids get to the bathroom on the bus (the kids were so amazed by the bus bathroom, they all had to try it out!), get water, break up fights, etcetera.  Needless to say, I was feeling a little motion sick by the time we arrived.

line up, line up...

touring the grounds


The grounds of the park are nice and very landscaped.  They were actually making cachaça while we were visiting:  you could smell the fermenting sugar, and I saw lots of steaming copper distillery thingys. I don't know the names because we bypassed the cachaça museum, which is too bad, because I think some samples would have helped me enjoy myself more....


barrels of cachaça

The kids played in the playground, played with clay, looked at the animals in the very small zoo they have, and took a little walk around the grounds.  They got a snack.  They listened to a storyteller and then made a finger puppet, and then it was time to go home.  We ran into traffic, and the teacher got sick again.

It wasn't my favorite day, but like I said, I should have known better. I also realize I didn't get to see all that Vale Verde has to offer, but to be honest, I don't think I'd return. First of all, it's about an hour away from Belo Horizonte (traffic). But then it's expensive:  it's about R$20 to get in, but then you have to pay for all the extras (fishing, ropes course, riding that plastic globe thing in the water where you kind of look like a hamster in a hamster ball, horse rides, trampoline, etcetera), and then you have to eat there, which I can only imagine is expensive.  I know I shouldn't complain about the price of things, but in my opinion, if I'm going to drive an hour outside of the city and pay upwards of R$100 a person for the experience, it better be darn well worth it.  Vale Verde has a promotion going on right now with Peixe Urbano, and I know that if you have an Itau account you can get half price tickets.  But considering the distance, the cost and what they have to offer, I honestly don't find it worth it.