Monday, December 15, 2014

Home again. No, the other one - São Paulo

So, here I am in São Paulo again. We arrived yesterday for a three-week visit--and I have to tell you that it's like we never left. Our house is still here (not sold yet) with skeleton furniture but a fully-stocked kitchen. The planes still start flying overhead on their way into the local airport at 6 am. The mosquitos still hunt us down in various corners of the house. I can hear the birds chattering and it feels like home. The other one.

Yesterday we arrived at the new terminal (okay it's 6 months old now) at Guarulhos airport. It's really nice. It's so first world. And we got our luggage and got out into the terminal sweating like piggies as it is summer here and we are dressed for Boston. And then we went to one of my favorite restaurants in the world named Frangó and ate coxinhas (fried chicken yummies) and drank beer (not the kids--they had some of Brazil's unparalleled fresh juice) and sat outside. 

My husband's ancient bulletproof Volvo was our ride. It makes me laugh, this car. In car years it's not that old--it's a 2008. In bulletproof car years, it's on double overtime. The tinted windows are peeling, it groans at the extra weight and one of my sons kept repeating "I thought the car seats were brown", almost crying with the certainty that he was being tricked by us and we'd switched cars.  I am not looking forward to driving the monster truck again--it is really too big for many of São Paulo's streets. Taxi!

And last night we got together with some of our friends who hosted a pizza evening in our honor. It is one of my favorite São Paulo traditions, the Sunday night 'pizzalhada". It was so fun to catch up--the kids seem to have all grown 5 inches since we left, and everyone has new challenges and plans. Yet it's like we never left. The best part of being an expatriate is the friends who are still there when you go back. 

So I'm looking forward to a crazy five days in São Paulo trying to catch up with all the friends I can--not only mine but my kids' friends too. Then we're off to my favorite beach in the world on Thursday for a week or so. I fully expect that has not changed a bit either. 

So far, so good.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

On Nor'Easters - Weston, MA

How my kids envision a "nor'easter"
I spent a year in Brazil writing daily blogs about everyday life there. I found a lot of humor in daily contacts and in circumstantial occurrences as well as the underlying culture of the place. It was the type of blog that can only be written when you are relatively new to a place because things strike you as strange, or funny, or sad, or wonderful or all of the above. It was focused on São Paulo state because that is where I lived--though it is called Brazil in My Eyes, it was really My Little Corner of São Paulo in My Eyes. 

The idea of this blog was bringing new eyes to the place where I grew up and lived for the first 21 years of my life--New England.  I can't count my five years in California or two in Illinois or six in Miami because as I'm sure most of you realize, this country is so completely different from one end to the other, west/east/north/south. Don't get my started on Californians. Or Texans. One day I'm going to go spend some time in Texas and get a blog going on all the Don't Tread on Me stuff. And fried butter. Fascinating stuff. 

Things that have amused the heck out of me so far: the endless fundraising (seriously I must get a flyer a week to donate money, teddy bears, toys, my time, etc), the Bostonian accent (yeah, this is JAH-vis (Jarvis) Appliance--we've got yer "PAAAHT (part)", the soccer mom culture (I've got 6800 miles on my four month old car from driving to activities) and the school bus stop which is my favorite social time every day. I hate when the bus is early. 

One of the recent amusements has been the "nor'easter". Now, please note that I am amused by this only because we have yet to face a serious storm here. I note that wikipedia says that we had a "Halloween 2014 nor'easter" and I recall that as flurries here in Weston. We went out in snow boots and ski jackets and the neighbors laughed at the tropical folk. 

The reason to be amused by the "nor'easter" is because of the absolute joy the use of this word brings to media folk. If you have any journalist friends, whisper it in their ears and watch them light up. A nor'easter is (summarizing 1500 words of wikipedia) a badass storm. Not a hurricane which loves warm oceans and winds, but a storm that loves the cold. A Canadian storm.  No, just kidding though I do note that wikipedia blames Nova Scotia in general.  If you want the technical definition, have at wikipedia: "A nor'easter is formed in a strong extratropical cyclone, usually experiencing bombogenesis." (source here). Sounds cool, right?

Holy crap--look what Canada did! Nor'easter March 2013. From wikipedia
Well, it's not cool. Yesterday it brought all day rain. All day. Which was a good thing in the end because early in the morning we had some snowy ice that was completely hard core. My 11-year old labrador from Brazil had no idea what it was, ran out the kitchen door, skidded on the stoop, sledded on her stomach down three steps, and wound up in a huge heap by the concrete garden rabbit. No permanent injuries but a sadly bewildered face. I skipped kung fu fit due to serious fear of driving in the yuck.

What's funny to me is I don't remember the term being used when I grew up in Connecticut. We had bad storms yes, but the media (okay, then relegated to a box called a TV--no personal computers or internet then, kiddies) didn't froth themselves up repeating the word every five minutes. 

I am in fact so completely opposed to the overuse of the word now that I am considering taking up the cause of Edgar Comee who according to Wikipedia 

"waged a determined battle against use of the term "nor'easter" by the press which usage he considered "a pretentious and altogether lamentable affectation" and "the odious, even loathsome, practice of landlubbers who would be seen as salty as the sea itself". (source here). 

Apparently Mr. Comee send hundreds of postcards and spent most of his life railing against the term. According to wikipedia, he was profiled in the New Yorker for that battle. I like him. Well, he's dead now, but I mean posthumously. 

All this frothing about storms reminds me of living in Miami for six years. Lordy, that town's media love a hurricane. I learned so much stuff about when a storm is in the box, out of the box, dirty side, clean side, which category was which speed and if my roof had grippers on it to keep it from flying off (it did). I can still see a number of the local news journalists almost bouncing from the excitement of impending doom.

All joking aside though, a nor'easter took down two huge pines in the backyard here two years ago--my backyard has a major hole where those majestic 35-foot trees grew. The former owner told me about it and losing power for 10 days. Which is why I have figured out how to light the fire in the four fireplaces and know which of my neighbors have generators so I can go hang out over there. 

Now I know better to challenge Mother Nature (what could possibly go wrong, indeed), so I'm just going to keep the fingers crossed that these badass storms could just buzz off this year. I can only handle so much welcome back to New England and fighting with the leaf care guys is exhausting enough.  Makes me want a snowblower. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

I Don't Know Why You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello - Ossining, New York

Ossining house and its screen door is open. Come on in!

One of the main reasons I wanted to move back to the US and specifically the northeastern part of the US was because I wanted to be closer to friends and family. While my parents live in Chicago, I grew up in Westchester County, New York and over the border in Fairfield County, CT. And I largely grew up as a member of two families--my own and that of the Hudsons (names changed for privacy purposes).

The Hudsons became friends with my parents as newcomers in the town of Somers--I was only four or so, my brother five, and their three kids ranged from 2 to 9. The parents played tennis together, drank wine together, hiked most of the peaks of the Hudson river valley together and stayed close even as my family moved to Connecticut, and they moved to Ossining, New York.

When the Hudsons bought their home in 1976, it was a dilapidated 11-acre estate with overgrown gardens, an abandoned pool and a decrepit house (a circa 1600 farmhouse!) and outbuildings. In typical Hudson style, they called in their friends to help. Because when I think of this family, I think of all the people who swirl in their orbit--they have friends literally everywhere. There is no other family that I can think of that so obviously understands the word inclusion. All were welcome: the international students and scientists, the wacky, the poor, the rich, the rescue dogs, us, whoever. Well, minus the deer that ate their magnificent gardens--Rob would sit up in trees and shoot them with bow and arrow. At one point he even had a trip-wired security light that would shine in his face and wake him up if a deer came by.  Before all the Bambi-lovers get crazy, this was not sport-hunting--Rob would use or give away every last bit of venison. 

After that first work party in 1976, the Hudsons held a summer party every year until about five years ago when the house went up for sale.  Two weddings were held there--one the ceremony in the garden, one with giant tents on the lawn where we danced the night away. I got ready to be a bridesmaid for Julie's wedding there. I can hear the screen door slapping as we walked in the mud room door, around the corner to the giant round kitchen table where Rob would be sitting reading a paper and drinking a coffee and Gretel would already be mid-rise to ask if we were hungry or would we like some tea.

And then suddenly we were grown up. Rob and Gretel were tired of taking care of the house--something was almost always breaking and they moved part-year to Naples Florida while selling the house. For the years that the house was for sale, we still came back to visit--all three of the Hudson kids and myself and all of our kids and spouses and friends. 

One of many lazy pool days
The pool was an ongoing scene always--Julie and I grew up bouncing off the diving board, putting on swim shows on innertubes, singing out of tune, saving frogs lost from the pond next door, and freezing our butts off in that unheated water. The pool itself was the Waterloo of Rob who could really fix anything--keeping it painted, leakless and repaired took much of the spring every year. I have countless photos of one person or another in the bottom of the pool cleaning the murky waters or painting it white some years, light blue or royal blue others. And the year of the titanium oxide pool water mix--sparkling clear one day, neon green the next. How I loved that pool.

Over the years, various changes to the property were preparing us to lose the childhood home. First one giant tree that held the hammock died, then the other. The pool garden grew over with grass. The bath house collapsed in a pile of rotted wood and was slowly carted away. The things that never changed--the magnificent gardens. The friendly faces. The kitchen table and chairs and its occupants. 

Then finally, a month ago, a buyer appeared. We don't know much about this buyer and what are his plans for the house. It is such an old house that needs constant care that it would be more cost efficient to crush it. I don't know how Rob and son Dan cared for it themselves all these years. The 11-acres and its outbuildings are all in question--what next? But we can do nothing about those plans. Instead, it was time to move out the forty years of stuff.

The three Hudson kids have been helping with move out for some time. Deciding what should be given away, moved to Florida, sold or moved to one of their houses. They've done an incredible job helping their parents and frankly just keeping it together. I admit that I was less than helpful myself during these days around Thanksgiving. I couldn't stop wandering the halls and rooms with their many memories--and I was never technically a resident of the house. But it was, of course, my childhood too.

The pool iced in.

A last swing on the backyard swing.

The site of one wedding

The things you can take with you: I took the office rug, some paintings, a couple of lamps. The recipes taped up inside the kitchen cabinet.

Recipes in the cabinet

The things I couldn't: the warm smells of wood and the outdoors which came in the uninsulated old windows, the creak of the old staircase, the view out the windows. Rob sitting at the kitchen table. Gretel offering me food (okay, if I visit her in Naples she will continue to offer me food). My friends and family gathered around the glass living room table talking about nothing and everything. The winter white snow covering the hillsides and hanging off the trees.

View out bedroom window

Making the giant snowball

On one of the last days, my twins and Charles, Julie's youngest child (age 9) played in the wonderful wet snow. They rolled huge snow balls into the pool. Charles fell in, floated to the side on an icy snowball and ran up to the house. As I opened the door to let him in, and he asked me for a towel, I flashed back to the millions of times that we had done the same (but in the summer, hello!)--"mom, can I have a towel?" His mom Julie was the first in the pool forty years ago. Charles was the last in the pool last week. Full circle? I guess so. I only wish we had had one more summer around that pool--I guess I expected it to always be here when I was ready for it. I say hello...but it's time to say goodbye.

Thanks for the memories: I carry you in my heart.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Illustrating a Point - Weston

Do you remember your second grade teacher's name? I do. Her name was Mrs. Whitcomb. I remember little else from my days in her classroom in Somers, New York, but I think she wore her hair in a bun (possibly cool in the early 70s?) and wore skirts. My mom can probably dig up the class photo if I ask her to, but I won't.  

In any case, I wonder now if I could find Mrs. Whitcomb and tell her how absolutely marvelous she was. Or must have been. Mostly because she did not lose her mind and lock us all in the closet for untold hours (surely I would remember if she had? Hmmm). Because I would. Lock us up, that is. Second graders are, simply put, honeybees from hell. They never ever stop moving.

I know this because today I went to the kids' school to watch a presentation by a children's book illustrator named Giles Laroche. I must tell you that I am a frustrated artist--I so wish I had some remote talent like warbling like a nightingale, or playing an instrument, or being able to draw a dog that does not in fact look like a cockroach on meth.  It's just not something I can do. Writing is my only marginal artistic talent. Some days I can write well, other days I write things about bugs on drugs but I digress.

Mr. Laroche, it turns out, has visited and spoken to the second graders in Weston for 27 years. 27 years!! And he rolled in a cart full of framed original artwork and told stories about the books he illustrates, and answered questions about Venice and how much paper he buys in a year and all kinds of other important stuff. He showed how he creates his art, which starts as drawings, then moves to cutouts and painting and he builds up these amazing landscapes and animals out of bits of paper. You can see more at his website.

When I saw him this morning (oh all right, struck with writer envy I stalked him into the library and brought him coffee and helped him move tables--a true children's book groupie, that's me), he was about to start presenting to three of the nine elementary school classes at Weston--about 50 kids in all. All the kids were lined up and led into the library by their teachers, quickly parked into rows in front of the presentation area, and then the presentation started.

During the 45 minutes of the presentation, not one of the teachers lost sight of her 18 lambs. An overly excited kid moving to his knees was dealt with by pulling a sleeve. A snuffly kid was presented with a kleenex. Not once did a teacher check her facebook, her email or her nails. Not once did they make a side comment to the other teachers. 

The first point of my blog today is to tell you that we should all call up our old second grade teachers and thank them. Because as thirty minutes of presentation had passed, the second grader fidget started on one side of the room and passed back again. Like a wave during a professional sports game. One kid rubs his hair with his jacket, turns the jacket inside out and wears it over his eyes (that kid was one of mine). One kid ties and unties his shoelaces. Another one turns his back to the speaker and begins a conversation with the bookshelf. At one point, I could swear I saw every single kid in motion--wiggling fingers, shaking hair, sticking a finger in an ear. It's enough to make you dizzy.

The second point is more of a question. Why would anyone want to be a second grade teacher? Okay, I admit it must have its fun moments--fart jokes and new achievements, reading taking off and the kids probably still need a hug every once in a while. Still, how in the world do you match that energy every day? Times 18? I don't get it but I am in awe of it.

The third point is that illustrator/author talks are cool. More please.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

I've Got Nothing - Natick

So it's getting cold here in New England. We got BH some winter boots at REI today which is where I pulled this wackiness off the sale rack. Why yes, it is a down mini-skirt. 

I've searched for something else to say here, but I've got nothing.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Who and What It's All About - Weston

Last night my kids fell asleep in my room late at night after a Saturday evening blowing up soccer balls for party favors and watching bad kid sitcoms. Both of them prefer still to sleep in my room on the carpeted floor rather than in their shared bedroom. They are sharing out of preference--we have a room for each, but they are scared since moving here of sleeping alone.  The separation anxiety is worse for one than the other--he will follow me from room to room, always calling out if I disappear for a minute into the laundry room or bathroom. He is terrified of being lost, even in his own house. 

As I do most nights, I woke in the middle of the night, anxious about various things. I gave up sleep after a bit, and turned on my light. I had forgotten for an instant that the twins were in my room. As I looked down, there was my son who had spent his first five years of life as a complete dinosaur obsessive. He knew the names of about 40 dinosaurs, knew their eating habits, their tracks, their eras. His favorite was triceratops, and his frequent companion was Triceratopsie, a green tri- he had chosen at the Field Museum of Chicago one Christmas. Sadly his love for dinosaurs started to diminish in the last year until at the age of seven, he loves them out of habit, not depth of feeling. 

Last night he chose Triceratopsie from the 10 or so stuffies on his bed, and here he is, curled up around his favorite, sleeping like an angel on his dinosaur pillowcase (mom is cheap and has not upgraded to Pokemon or Avatar or whatever) having read his dinosaur book. He sleeps on top of a quilt I had made from his infant rompers--a lovely Brazilian woman made one for each twin-- and tucked into a zebra blanket--his favorite animal from safari last year.

My kids turn 8 on Friday. I am filled with love and regrets for this fact. Let's be honest here--the first three months here have been filled with intense joy, huge changes and great learnings. And sadness--separations from close friends, from the only place they remember in their consciousness, and from their father, who spends more time in Brazil than in the US. For now. Hopefully he will be with us more often shortly. And I've been stressed out--yelled a bit more, lost my patience countless times, and cried tears of frustration for not being able to do everything I want to do.

So what is this move all about? Why are we here? We are here for me and for them. I still feel like I can be a better person here in the US than I was in Brazil. I don't know how to explain that. I am happier here and more relaxed. We are doing the best we can, and it's not half bad. 

When we adopted our dog Coal a month or so ago, the foster coordinator said to me that I needed to set him up for success. As in don't leave him alone outside the crate and then have him eat the couch. Then you won't want to keep him. Don't let him off-leash in deer country--he may run after them.  How do you set your kids up for success? Let them sleep on your bedroom floor (don't worry Nana, I'm not on my way to Chicago). Let them wear their Brazil shirt four days out of five. Let them explore the wild without saying "watch out, there are ticks in the woods!"  I'm letting them be.

And celebrate eight. Happy birthday, my little Brazilian-Americans!

Friday, October 31, 2014

100 Days - Weston, MA

The dawn of the 99th day

So today marks 99 days since our repatriation to the USA. You'll have to allow me a little license on calling it the first 100 days a day early--today being Halloween and a Friday, it means that I just won't have a spare moment during the weekend with the hyper-sugared kids.  

The boys are two weeks away from turning eight years old. They are out of their minds with joy for their first Halloween ever. They have had others--but only one in the USA when they were almost 1 year old and not trick-or-treating.  This morning they pushed playfully in their bus line--there are five boys between the ages of 6 and 10 at the bus stop and each has one day of the week that they get on the bus first. It is surprisingly entertaining to them each morning to line up--"today's Friday, I'm second!" or whatever. They are happy.

I am happy. I am in fact still in love with my new home, neighborhood and town. Aw what the heck, also my state and country. The honeymoon period has not yet passed--I expect the first cracks in the facade will come in December with days getting light at 7:15 am and dark at 4:15. That can't be good. I have no fear of the cold (yes, you can remind me of this in February) but I have fear of the dark. Yes, I will be taking the twins trick-or-treating tonight--not that kind of dark. Long dark. Cold dark.

In the meantime, I still stare open-mouthed out my kitchen window at the maples, oaks and birches that shine on with yellows, oranges and sadly now a bit of brown. The New England fall is simply mind-boggling. Showers of leaves float down as I write this--the winds are up for the cold front tomorrow. Most of the leaves are on borrowed time. 

Yesterday I took a two-hour walk in the woods with a friend I chanced to find after 25 years. We now live less than a mile apart--we both have two rescued dogs, we both are off-ramped from our Seven Sisters/MBA/business careers to spend time with our kids. The big difference is that she runs ultramarathons (50 miles!!) and I eat large amounts of donuts. Oh yes, and do Kung Fu Fit.  I have new friends who I feel like I've known forever, and old friends who are better than ever. Happy. I am deliriously happy.

Of course there are the bad days. The bad days are the ones when I am frustrated with trying to get everything done--chimney cleaning (that's right now--I am tired of the vacuuming already), irrigation system winterized, doctors appointments, books back to the library on time. My kids mostly still want to sleep in my room--they are still scared of this three-story house. They have only ever lived in a one-story house. The dogs need walking, they need an end-of year boarding situation, and I need to see a dentist after two years ignoring that task. Life is busy. 

While I was chopping up the 4000000000000 apples that my kids picked during a Cub Scouts outing last weekend and tossing them into the pot for a year's worth of applesauce (I don't bake), I began to think about what makes me so happy here.  Besides the fall leaves. Besides the wild outdoors. Besides my awesome kids and dogs.  And I found the number one thing. And it has everything to do with ex-patriation and repatriation.

Confidence. It's the overwhelming sense of confidence here. It's knowing who to call when the chimney needs cleaning. It's knowing how to explain what is wrong at the doctor's office, or at Home Depot or at the car dealership. It's knowing that the Mass Pike sucks on Fridays. It's knowing that I will shortly be very tired of apples and pumpkins.

I am fluent in Portuguese. I can confidently say that. But I am not fluent in Brazil and maybe you can never be if you are not born there--Matthew Shirts, a longtime Brazil resident, might argue with me. But it's true. It took me 9 years living there to be able to phrase things in the subjunctive (polite) or in the third person (for older people) so that I didn't insult people. My phrasing, while mellowed, is forever American of Dutch background--I say what I mean and mean what I say. That is not Brazilian. 

I am confident chatting with the neighbors -- when they invite me over for dinner, they actually mean it. Not the Brazilian "we should have dinner sometime" which means roughly never.  I am confident that when I am told the price of something, that is indeed the price--not the price because I am a gringa, or because I haven't learned to negotiate or whatever it is. I never understood when I could negotiate in Brazil and when I couldn't. I probably have some enemies I am not aware of.

I am confident in who I am and how I can do things. I am taking these months left in 2014 to settle in, but I know that I can work again outside the home if I want to. Probably in a job that is less than full time, allowing me to spend healthy time with my kids and healthy time for myself. I never felt judged badly for staying at home withe the kids in Brazil--but nor were most Brazil jobs and careers made with parents in mind. Taking kids to private school, finding educated help for the kids in the afternoon, working until 9 pm because of bad traffic--São Paulo is tough for the two-career couple. I completely take my hat off to those who could make it work.

More than any other place I have lived since 1986 when I went to college--I feel at home. I am home. I loved living in San Francisco for five years after college--but it never felt like home. I liked Evanston, but it was not home. I never loved New Jersey and Miami where I lived at various moments. 

I love São Paulo, I truly do. But it was never comfortable, and never made me confident. So much I didn't and still don't understand about the politics, about the culture, about the people. I don't want to discourage anyone ever from taking an ex-patriate assignment--it was fantastic. It made me a more empathetic person and expanded horizons that a 2-week trip cannot possibly do. 

But the truth of the truth is: I am happy to be home.

100 days.

Monday, October 27, 2014

I'm a Stranger Here Myself - Weston, MA

You know that Bill Bryson book about re-patriating named I'm a Stranger Here Myself? Besides having the best title for a repatriation book ever, it is perfect for many a moment of mine here. This time it involves Halloween. It turns out that Halloween, that wonderful silly holiday of my childhood, is not what it used to be. And before you think this is going to be one of those sad tales about how everything was better back in my day, blah blah say the teenagers, I will tell you it is quite the opposite.

I had a storybook childhood. I really did. After being born in University Hospital in NYC (giving me bragging rights FOREVER for being a New Yorker--this is huge to Brazilians), my family moved out to suburban New York when I was around three and my brother five. We spent our early childhood at the top of a hill where houses got hit by lightning (making for great fireball stories), kickball was played in the dead end and we were surrounded on two sides by huge farms. No wonder I like Weston. 

I have a hard time choosing a favorite holiday -- probably Thanksgiving, possibly Christmas --and a close third is Halloween (well, seriously which other one would you choose? July 4? No). I loved dressing up as most kids do and candy never hurt anyone (says the mother of a kid with five cavities) but I was terrified of the dark. So trick or treating was done early, in huge gangs of kids, and only in the hilltop neighborhood. It was awesome and the candy lasted at least a week, and my mom would always eat out the dark chocolate outliers for me. Who gives dark chocolate to kids? Anyway.

My total of 9 years in Brazil (six of them with kids) showed me that Brazil has no idea how to do Halloween and should simply ignore the holiday. I even had a short-lived campaign to make the country give it back cause they were wrecking it. It's all about adult parties with people wearing skimpy clothes they REALLY shouldn't or children's parties in party rooms with tons of candies and nothing involving pumpkins, trick or treat yelling or the joy of trying to walk in a form-fitting nylon costume with your snowsuit on underneath because of course the weather turned. I tried to ignore Brazilian Halloween.

So I've been loving fall as you all know from my blog, and the lead-up to Halloween has caused me to buy about 40000000 pumpkins because I can't resist a farm stand or the church selling pumpkins to save the Navajos and then we got some from the Cub Scouts and well, I have an army of the little orange things outside on my steps. I bought skeleton flamingos, put up the pumpkin lights and have scheduled the candy run as close to the date as possible. I buy all the candy I love of course in case there are leftovers and there are never leftovers when I have eaten them all by October 30. Life learnings here, my friends, life learnings. 

When I was over at my friend-neighbor's (frie-bors?) house last week, though, I got completely blown out of the imaginative waters. The kids told me they had just been GHOSTED. And I said, very intelligently, "like in Ghostbusters?" and then all the kids who were born LONG after that movie came out looked at me like the irrelevant adult I am, and scoffed. It is tough to be scoffed at by 10 year olds when they are not yours. Trying to recover I said "just kidding! so do you feel okay now?"

It turns out that there are no health issues associated with being ghosted. It is a new (to me) American fad of ringing the doorbell of one of your friends or neighbors, leaving treats and small presents on their doorstep, and running away before they can catch you. Included with the treats is a little card and a ghost or sign that says:

You've Been Ghosted!

Late last night, we left you a treat. The tradition is fun, one we hope you'll repeat.
Take the ghost and pin it on your door, to let others know, you need ghosted no more.
Now it's your duty to pass on the surprise, to two more families, we must advise.
Gather some treats and deliver them soon, within two nights, under the light of the moon.

Once you've been ghosted, you are supposed to ghost two more houses in the neighborhood until every house has been done. In actuality, some people get ghosted multiple times and then hit several houses back. 

My kids got ghosted tonight. We had just gotten back from a soccer game at 6:45 when the doorbell rang. We got there pretty fast but all that was there was two pirate handkerchiefs, some Boo bags, candy, trinkets and the ghosted note.

I love it. I admit it. Though this means that I will need to spend some time tomorrow putting together two ghosting packages and then drive or walk the kids to two nearby houses in pitch black cold, I love it. And I love that someone ghosted my kids--it shows that they have made friends here (I'm guessing you don't ghost enemies). 

Now I am up to speed on the latest in doorbell ditching. Tricking and treating. Ghosting. Bring it on. I'm still a stranger but I'm catching up...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Being and Breathing - Weston, MA

Photo credit: Broomstones Curling Club

When I tore three ligaments in my ankle a few years ago, I recovered strength by doing yoga. Specifically, power yoga with the DVDs of Bryan Kest and my favorite Baron Baptiste. While I enjoyed Kest's workout, the folks in the video were all clearly Claymation because no one but NO ONE can bend like that. So I stuck more with Baron since being in Brazil in the tropical heat and no air conditioning made hot yoga just obvious, not marketing.  And his students seemed to have the normal range of motion...

I do have a point here. At least I did before I ate the last 40 candy corns. What is it with candy corn? It doesn't taste good, it's so sweet it sets my teeth on edge and I can't stop eating it. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. Baron. One of my favorite lines in the DVD is when he tells you to relax into a pose and says that you should be just "being and breathing...being and breathing." This is a pose I have never done in my life, especially in the three months since moving to the US. Just being and breathing...

Instead, I am running around like a chicken. I knew it would be like that in the beginning, but now, isn't it supposed to slow down?  So while I was driving down to a store in Natick (7 miles away) this morning and trying to keep my car on the road because let's face it: New England fall makes you forget to be and breathe, and even drive. Breathlessly beautiful around every curve in the road.  Wait, did I finish that sentence? Doesn't matter. 

Anyway, my favorite app called Waze led me down some new roads in this town of 11,000 and I like to look at all the business signs when I'm not looking a sugar maples and I saw this "XXX Curling Club" where XXXX has been forgotten by yours truly. What? Curling? We can do curling here?  People outside of Canada and Scandinavia still curl? My high school boyfriend was a curler. He also sometimes reads this page so I'm done here.

The point being (wait, I need another candy corn) there is so much to DO here. I know what the land of opportunity moniker means. It means you have the opportunity to fill yours and your family's schedule NON STOP with stuff. Sports, arts, crafts, farming, climbing, jumping, hiking, etc. It makes me dizzy. So here are the sports you can do within seven miles (let's include the curling, shall we?) of my house:

Hockey (on three different teams)
Skating (figure, ice, fall on your face in the driveway shortly, also ponds in the neighbor's backyard)
Knee hockey (okay this is cheating but two friends have basement courts on our street)
Field Hockey
Kung Fu
Tae Kwan Do
Skiing - Cross Country (out the back door)
Skiing - Downhill (cheating but you can take the Ski Train from Weston to Nashoba Valley in the winter). 
Curling - it IS a sport. Stop laughing.

What else can you do? 
Arts and Crafts at the Community Center
Drumlin Farm mini-camps (my kids are currently detectives on Wednesdays)
Birding (ditto the above)
Picking your own whatever.
Join a thousand volunteer groups. volunteer until you don't have a spare moment
Writing classes
Book groups
Alumnae Groups (I live 10 miles from my college and can't get there cause I'm so busy!!!)
Get my dog trained. 

And I can't even begin to tell you about committee-landia--I can be on the math and science committee or the creative arts committee or Friends of the Library or a room parent. Oh, yes I am all of the above. I must stop volunteering. Here is a new word for me: "No." 

It's a gorgeous fall day and I feel like I have to go walk in the woods. And so I did. I took two labbies (mine and my neighbor's) for a walk and a swim and watched the leaves fly through the air. And then I hurried home for the next program.

I'm tired. And my kids get home on the bus in an hour and we're heading to the detective camp.Where I will sit and try to organize thoughts of what to do for their eighth birthday party in less than a month. Curling party?

Being and breathing...

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Book of Days - Weston, MA

Lincoln Conservation land

One day, one night one moment
With a dream to be leaving
One step, one fall, one falter
Find a new world across a wide ocean
This way became my journey
This day brings together
Far and Away

- Enya - Book of Days

Yesterday was as beautiful a day as you will ever find here in New England. An autumn show. I am adding it to my Book of Days, those days that touch me so deeply by their beauty.

I started the day in the woods with my friend's dog Finley and my new dog Coal. Finn will be the star of these photos because Coal is still being leash-trained and he stayed by my side. Finn is a most excellent three-year old yellow lab, highly trained, highly fun and the best canine I can think of to take for a walk in the woods (yes, Coal included. He'll get there but he's not there yet). Here is our walk through the Lincoln conservation woods behind my house:


Finley too fast

Seriously he's like a doggy supermodel. I forget to look at the trees.

After our walk, I did some work around the house and then thought: what am I doing? These days are short and getting shorter! During the afternoon I went to Mass Audobon's Drumlin Farm, a wonderful learning center and working farm. My friend (the one with Finn) has a farm share there and I went to pick it up while dropping off the three boys (my two plus one of hers) for Drumlin Detectives, a fun afternoon class. 

And I got to pick cherry tomatoes and lavender and zinnias. I talked with friendly people and basked in the autumn sun. I carefully read the white board about the quantities of potatoes, carrots, squash, kale etc that were her shares for the day. I signed her name. I toted the stuff up the hill. I watched chubby sheep cross the golden fields. I wandered paths and watched wild turkeys. 
I remain in awe of where I live. Lucky me.

Drumlin Farm and zinnias

Picking the cherry tomatoes

Mysterious pond view

Drumlin headquarters

Pumpkins for sale at the front gate. And my shadow...

Wild turkeys. Immediately before being chased by kids...

One day, one night, one moment
My dreams could be tomorrow
One step, one fall, one falter
East or West,
Over earth or by ocean
One way to be my journey
This way could be my
Book of Days

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Skadoosh! - Concord, MA

First, a test. Who can name the movie?

Shifu: Let us begin.
Po: What? Uh... I don't think I can do all those moves right away.
Shifu: [chuckles] Well, we'll never know unless we try, will we?
Po: Well, maybe we could start out with something more at, you know, my level.
Shifu: And what level is that?
Po: Uh... level zero? How about that, level zero?
Shifu: [chuckles] There is no such thing as level zero.
Po: Well, what about that?
[He indicates a small dummy]
Shifu: That? We use that for training children, and for propping the door open when it gets hot. But, if you insist... 


Yes, of course that is Kung Fu Panda, one of my favorite kids movies of all time. Oh, all right, one of my favorite movies, period. I cannot think of kung fu without thinking of this movie which is of course a total insult to the Chinese martial art of kung fu. And, as I learned recently, it is only a short time ago that the term "kung fu" was used for other than a description of any study or practice that takes time, patience and energy to complete. And that perfectly describes the martial art.

When we moved here in July, I brought my kids to a number of test classes including kung fu. One of my kids has been asking to do kung fu for about a year, but I couldn't find a place in Brazil that would teach kids younger than 8. My son was at the time 6 years old; he is now 7.  We found a kung fu place in Concord called Wah Lum Kung Fu, about 20 minutes from here--I sent a message which the owner, Andrea, immediately answered and welcomed us to do a test class in early September when the semester started. 

The kung fu "palace" is in a warehouse. It is among building contractors and who knows what else tucked behind a Stop N Shop strip mall just over the line into Concord. We walked in and were immediately greeted by Sifu Evan who is the kids teacher on Tuesday. He kept the kids from checking out all of the swords lined up along one wall, but of course that was the major appeal of our first look.

Sifu Evan is a wonderful teacher for kids--with humor-laced comments interspersed with strict discipline, he keeps around 12-15 kids quiet and inline for an hour while learning balance, strength and aerobic exercises. It has done wonders for my son's concentration--while he can't do everything asked, he does try. In recent weeks, they are starting to learn to use stick-fighting, punching gloves and to run through a circuit of physically-demanding exercises.

My instructor Andrea and Sifu Evan, my son's instructor

But I digress from Kung Fu Fit. While I was watching Nico, I saw a sign for a new class being offered there called Kung Fu Fit. I have never done martial arts but after dropping off the running wagon after injury, sickness and let's face it, pure laziness, I wanted to try something new to keep me in shape. And Sifu Andrea explained her creation--it is a fitness class with stretching, strength-building, aerobic activity, balance and many moves adapted from kung fu. And I said: I've got to try it!!

And I loved it. On Tuesday and Thursday mornings, I trek up through gorgeous farm and woods-lined roads for an hour-long Kung Fu Fit (KFF) class with one other student and our teacher Andrea. The other student is a yoga instructor and she can really hit more of the moves than I can. I am (or was) level zero. 

We spend the first 5 minutes of class rolling around on some cylinders that manage to find the most sore parts inside and outside our legs. If you don't know what an illiotibial band is, that is one way to find out in the most painful (good pain, my friends) way possible. Then we do lots of lunging and skipping and aerobic activities.  It is, in a word, fun.

After stripping down to cooler clothing, we stretch. I love this half-way mark stretch. We do some kung fu-ey type moves with punches and mantis fingers (don't ask--I look like I'm doing the hang-loose sign--coordination is not one of my best features) then lady curtseys and lots of horse-posing. You know: looking like a cowboy who just got off a loooooooong ride. 

Horse pose. Image credit:

 Then we do about 20 minutes of circuit training--usually four to five stations that we go through and do pull-ups or push-ups or rolling stuff around and leg lifts and it is great energy and tough work. But so much more fun than free-weights, you can't believe it. And we chat and laugh and groan. It is the most fun I've ever had before not being able to move the next day.

Yeah, so the day after the first class I pretty much walked like a 120-year old woman. I'd say 100-year old woman but my great-aunt is 100 and she moves much better than I was the first day. There are muscles used that I didn't know existed. A really wonderful workout for building arm, leg, back, stomach muscles. Not to mention that you have a bit of mental work as you concentrate on getting the feet in the right place, leaning weight over the correct leg, not falling into a giant puddle onto the ground.

The biggest challenge of all: not becoming the panda. The first day I left class I was so hungry I stopped at the local supermarket and bought a loaf of olive bread that I devoured on the way home. Now I'm learning to eat a bit better before heading out the door. 

If you're in the area, and want to join us, we'd love a few more students. We'll let you start at level zero, even. Check it out here:


photo credit: wikipedia

Monday, October 6, 2014

Demons - Weston, MA

There in the woods (look next to the biggest trunk, to the right) is a real, live DEMON

I am asked a lot about whether or not security was the reason for moving from São Paulo to the US. It was definitely a factor - I got tired of driving a bulletproof car and watching my back - but it was not even in the top five reasons for repatriating. That being said, I do love the feeling of not having to be watchful all the time. I have so little clue what is going on around me during a walk through the neighborhood that a neighbor with a Prius has several times had to practically hit me in the butt to get me out of the way. Silent cars, non-vigilant walker. 

Today I had coffee with a Brazilian with twin boys. No, it wasn't BH (Brazilian husband).  I had heard of a Brazilian family with twin boys in the middle school and I chased the wife down (not with a Prius) and we met to chat in English and Portuguese about life here, there and everything in between. I asked her how she was keeping up her boys' Portuguese and she said that she had been taking them to Portuguese classes at the Brazilian-American center until it got too scary to drive at night.

Me, conditioned after six years in São Paulo, gasped and said "why? what happens?" thinking of gangs or hit-and-runs or whatever, wondering if I had sold my bulletproof car too fast.  And my new friend said (in Portuguese): "there are a lot of DEER here."  

Now I have to back up for a second and also mention that the word in Portuguese for deer ("veado") sounds a lot like the slang word for gay people ("viado") and I was wondering how I was going to break off a new friendship with a person who did not like gays...and then I realized she meant fuzzy four-legged DEER. 

Apparently the DEER (they are scary enough to capitalize) jump out in front of your car--purposefully--and ask you for your wallet. No. That's not it. They commit suicide into your headlights, according to my new friend. And she told me that I had to look it up but apparently I have moved into the world capital of DEMON DEER. Suicide bombers into your car's grill. Causing thousands of dollars of damage and countless accidents.

Note that so far I have found no internet research to back up the DD world capital claim but I'm going to the library (slowly and with eyes peeled!) this afternoon to see if they can help me with the research on this.  Until then, I am not driving at night. And not just because I haven't updated my eyeglass prescription in 10 years.  Beware the DEMON DEER.

That's all from exurbia.