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.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Rockin' It - Lincoln, MA

The first time I drove past this scene in Lincoln, MA, I thought maybe it was a dream. In a small fenceless area close to cow and sheep fields (electrified fences, yipes!) there is a collection of around 25 rocking horses. When I first saw them, they were in rows, watching the field at twilight. 

The next time I saw them, I stopped with my kids so they could ride those horses. The horses were scattered willy-nilly in the same space and I examined many of them. Some were antiques with the old metal coiled springs. Some were fluffy fat stuffed horses on wooden rockers. Some were simply plastic horse toys. My kids tested ninety percent of them for springiness. 

As the kids played, two women cyclists stopped by. One exclaimed “I’ve lived here 12 years and I’ve never seen anyone on these rocking horses.” I asked her what the story was and she said it had started out as the owner of the land putting out one rocking horse for anyone to grab. Instead, that horse attracted more horses.

Which explains the horses but not how they move around. Sure enough, today I passed by with my son again and the horses were pow-wowing in a circle. Perhaps planning world or at least Lincoln-domination. Weird and lovely. Lincoln.