Friday, July 24, 2015

Things Are Seldom What They Seem - Weston, MA

So, it's been a year. A year since I began this repatriation journey. A year since leaving my home of six years in São Paulo, Brazil. The changes have been immense--stresses that I didn't know I had have melted away. Stresses I didn't know I would have have reared their sleepless-night-inducing heads. It has not been easy in so many ways; it has been so easy in other ways.

When we announced our move, most people said that repatriation would be much more difficult than expatriation. I don't believe that to be true. There are challenges both ways, but here "at home", I don't feel like I am facing it alone. Perhaps I am lucky for having found people with whom I can laugh or cry here, but all in all, things have been okay. More than okay. Slightly less than awesome.

New friends have helped immeasurably, yet I had forgotten how  long it takes to make friends in a new town, especially a New England one. Old friends have been invaluable--from unpacking to inviting us to their homes, to lending a sympathetic ear when I started sentences for the two-thousandth time "well, when I was in Brazil..."

So, I'd like to sum up my year--the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful... I don't know if it will help the repatriators who follow but it helps me realize what I have gone through.

The good

People. New Englanders take a while to know, but they are in fact wonderfully helpful, funny and genuine folks. If you do get invited for dinner, they actually want you to come over rather than just a "hey, we should do dinner sometime."  They are also used to be independent and self-reliant (yes, I had to give up a housekeeper) and will stand in for you as babysitter or driver if you are stuck. We've all been there. 

New skiers (mine) and new friends.

The ease of life. Case in point: our grocery store has everything here. Batteries, stationery, milk, vegetables, beer. It's all in one place. It's easy. Of course it's easier for me because I know brands and I know where to find them. I am from here. I get it. But in the grand scheme, what I mean here is that having your kids running down the street to friends' houses without a thought to safety is ease of life, not just groceries. They bicycle down streets with little risk to life and limb. Also yellow school buses. I love them.

The closeness of family. My brother lives 12 miles from me. My parents live a two hour flight from me. I am not saying we see them all the time, but it's a bit better than the distance we've lived at for the last 15 years (Brazil then Miami then Brazil again).

The comfort of my own language and culture. Not much I need to say here. The comfort of my own language means that I don't have to worry that I accidentally insulted someone by not calling them "Senhora" instead of the more casual "voce" in Portuguese. Or that "louco" or crazy in Portuguese is actually pretty strong and not a light-hearted American "You're crazy!" And yes, I get references to Dukes of Hazzard and the Brady Bunch--not so much the Pica-Pau Amarelo in Brazil. It's nice to be comfortable in my language and my bad 70s TV shows.

Being allowed to complain. I am not a Brazil citizen or passport holder. I cannot vote there. I was always pretty careful not to complain (much) about the politics because frankly I can't do much about it. I am a voter here. I vote every time I'm allowed. I complain and I try to change what I'm complaining about. It is nice to be able to vote in local elections again. And state. As well as federal. Beyond voting, if you are a "visitor" or "permanent resident" of a country, your criticism about it often chafes a native. I get it. 

New England. It's God's Country. It's the most beautiful place in the world in every season. It is. Don't try to fight it.

Coal. My rescue dog has filled a hole that a 14-year old labrador's death on June 14, 2014 carved in my heart. He is funny, he is bad, he is comic relief. We also have two fish and of course Haifa, the world's happiest and laziest labrador, who makes me smile just by existing.

Coal and Lalo

The bad

Little bads: Nico breaks an arm two hours after arrival last year.
Life goes on for some friends you had expected to see. Case in point is one friend who lives exactly one hour and a half from here. I haven't seen her since last August. Not for lack of trying--her kid plays competitive lacrosse apparently every waking moment, she and her husband work full-time and she is trying to sell her business.  For other friends, I mistakenly thought that New York (where I'm from) is closer than it is. I don't mean miles. I mean life.

BH working more in Brazil and less here. When we moved, I thought BH would be more here and less there. That he would be six months in Brazil then join us here with trips back and forth twice a month. In reality, he is more there than here--he's a consultant and he has a great client. We all do what we can but being more alone that I thought I would be has been pretty tough.

The realization that the market went on without me. For the last six months, I have dabbled in trying to go back to work. On-ramping, as it seems is the catch phrase right now. I need to for my mind and to pay for lawn care, which it turns out is really expensive ;). While I have a great educational and work background, I've been out for a long time. It is really hard, for my ego and in general, to get back in.

Even though you can afford it, you need to watch out. When you live in a city as expensive as São Paulo and imported goods are outrageously priced, you may find yourself going a little crazy when you get back in the US. Yes, a lot of stuff is very cheap but it adds up. Case in point: my Honda CRV cost the equivalent of $60,000 (before bullet-proofing) in Brazil. For that money, I could buy a nice Acura MDX (actually for $20K less) brand-new. Should we have bought a brand-new car with all the other expenses of new house coming through? Not sure. We made up for it with our second car: a 2002 Acura TL hooptie which my kids prefer to the big car!

Snowmaggedon. Yeah, it wasn't that bad but just think about 110 inches of snow and no snowblower. I love winter, but let's get real, Boston.

Missing friends and family. Perhaps the biggest "bad". The joy of being a bi-country couple is that someone is always missing. I miss my stepkids Carol and Pedro (ages 20 and 23) who are moving along life's path at an accelerated pace. I miss my friend Pri who was always up for a coffee or a glass of wine and laughing about life. I miss my expat friends who could make me laugh about the craziness of our adopted city--especially Erica, Birgit and Virginia, but many others too. I miss the fazenda where we rented a house--a place so filled with beauty that it apparently stole it from other places. I miss carefree and friendly Brazilians--the ones I struck up casual conversations with about nothing and about everything. Taxi drivers, bakery helpers, cashiers. And finally, but not meant that way, I miss my crazy Brazilian in-laws: Marisa, Marco, Zoraide, Leo, Isabela, Julia...all of you. Please no one tell them I said so.

All in all, we love our new house and new life in the USA. I am not promising to stay here forever, but it is home now.  I am now on the local PTO board. I have been appointed to a town committee. I manage my kid's club soccer team. I am doing my best to participate and live here as fully as I did in Brazil. Because I think that is the trick to expatriation AND repatriation. Throw yourself fully in, participate and BE where you are. Yes, you can miss certain things about your life in the other place but in the end, it doesn't help your happiness.

I'm not happy every day here. Not even close. But I try.

Happy Anniversary, Weston! 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Off the Grid, or Life as it Once Was - Old Forge, NY

View at Flat Rock, a short trail to magnificent beauty

After a couple of July weeks of camps and carpools and organized life, as well as Brazilian and American visitors, we left last Saturday for a four and a half hour car trip to Old Forge, New York, in the Adirondacks region. 

In case any of my foreign readers are not familiar with the Adirondacks, they are 6.2 million acres of loveliness, about 40 percent of which is state-owned, and the other 60 percent privately owned but highly regulated by a state agency. Depending on who you believe (and you'd better swallow hard), "Adirondacks" mean "they eat trees" or possibly "porcupines" (I love you wikipedia!). It was only named in the late 1800s--before then it was known as "Deer Hunting Territory" which is the title now bequeathed on Weston, MA. Just kidding, bambi lovers. In any case, I want to encourage you to NOT visit so I can keep it to myself. No seriously, it's terrible there; please read no further.

I will not bore you with the travails of long trips with twin 8 year old boys. Suffice it to say that we were very happy to arrive at the gatehouse of the Adirondack League Club in Old Forge. But before I talk about ALC, let me tell you a little bit about how we were lucky enough to know about it. Because, you see, the ALC is the world's best-kept secret. Yes, I am telling you but only because I know that only my mom and BH actually read this blog. Okay, maybe not BH. Let me show you case in point on the secretiveness of the organization. This is their website:

That's it, that's all they wrote. Now here's what you need to know: it's a membership organization, they are preserving the wilderness (and have done so since the late 1800s) and you can't go without knowing a member (which we do). Lucky us.

So, getting back to how we got in. We got ourselves a little guest pass that carefully and largely spelled out the day we were leaving. Yes. We were just pulling in, and they were ready for us to pull out. We didn't take it personally. After passing through the gatehouse, we drove to the so-called Little Moose lodge to wait for our friends, who we will call James and Joyce since I have no permission to publicly name them and since they are off the grid for the next two weeks, I am going with a literary pseudonym. 

James' family have been members of the club since the 1920s and he is married to Joyce, a Brazilian and we have known them since our kids were in school together back in 2009. They are a fun family--early morning off-the-dock dives, letting my kids drive the boat (help!) and all games, all the time.

Now let me explain off the grid. Cell phones don't work. There are no home phones. No internet, no TV, no nada except electricity and that depends on where you are whether it is generator-produced or not. As James said, if he ever had to escape the law, this is where he would go off-grid. I didn't think about that too much. I'm sure he meant it rhetorically.

So, since I want to stick in lots of photos to make sure you are all suitably envious of my life, here is the Little Moose Lodge:

There is not much "little" about it, really. Oh wait, I forgot. This is not the Lodge, it is the Summer House. Yes, this building is only used in the summer--it is not weather-proofed. So, they also have a Winter Lodge, which is right up the hill, and is used all winter long for those fans of snow sports and snowmobiling and freezing your toots off. 

Now this is actually a newer Summer House. The older one burnt down in the late 1940s to the great relief of the members of the Adirondack League Club. Why was it a relief? It was ENORMOUS! I saw a photo of it in the ALC photo book and it was basically a rustic wood castle, if you will. The upkeep was pretty spectacular for a then-800, now 400-member club. 

I've tried to search a map online to show you the extent of the 53,000 acre ALC property--actually two separate properties. It does not exist. You can find a map of Little Moose lake, and you can find one of the Adirondacks but you cannot find the lake where we were: Woodhull. Or Honnedaga which is the third lake. Oh okay you can but you'll have to squint here. We were at the lake far up to the left.

What's my point? My point is that two of these three lakes are motor-free. You may not jetski, you may not waterski, you may not motorboat. You get kayaks and guideboats and sailboats and standup paddle. That is all. On the lake where we stayed you are allowed to pass through with a boat (hence the prevalence of pontoon boats) but no zipping around with kids on innertubes. Boats are used because there is no road. None. The Adirondacks are QUIET. I like them like that. Please don't go.

Why yes, we do hunt here in the Addies
 The truth of it is that the inside areas of the Adirondack houses, cottages and lodges are places where you are more than happy to spend a rainy day. Well, okay, you are likely to have the head of some poor dead beast looking over you, but we're talking huge old stone fireplaces, large wood furniture, deep red-fabricked (may I, mom?) couches, rocking chairs and everyone's favorite, the Adirondack chair (well those are all outside but you get my point). Rustic charm. The charm that makes you want to buy the standing bear card holder or balsam wood garbage can before you come to your senses and realize it does not fit stylistically into your Colonial house in metrowest Boston. Though my brother has an Adirondack room at his apartment in Back Bay, complete with a half canoe bookcase. But I digress.

Rainy day great room at Little Moose Summer House. With dead animal over fireplace.

Bisby Lodge. Only place with wifi, 20 guys on the rocking chairs checking email

Boat House Bisby Lodge

Boat house Bisby Lodge: Lovely Adirondack Guideboats.

Where was I? Oh yes, so after meeting up with our friends, we had lunch in the beautiful restaurant on Little Moose Lake. In the summer house. And we didn't even have to pay!! No, that's not it. Members sign for the food like in a country club and then ante up later on. We hopped back into cars and drove twenty minutes to the crossing from shoreline to the house of our friends on Woodhull Lake. Or houses. Because everyone has a summer house (no insulation) and winter house (usually where the kitchen is and the family stays). 

I have to say that this trip was like going back to the early 1900s (if you forgive the two motorboats we used to cross over, oh, and electricity, whatever, come with me now). The houses are rustic and unapologetically so. The guideboat I would row around the island the next day was beautifully wood lined and graceful. Simple fun of jumping off docks into cold water. Building huge bonfires in firepits. Scrabble and card games. Hikes in the woods. Conversation and wine with friends. Fun with dogs.  And kids (yeah, almost forgot them). Life as it once was. And maybe should be for at least two weeks a year. 

Hard to get off the grid for two weeks or two months anymore. I would certainly like to try to again. We were there only four days--next year, I'm going for two weeks. Good thing James and Joyce don't know yet...right now, they're still off the grid. 

More gratuitous photos of my extremely awesome vacation:

Great room at our Summer House lodgings. Don't you want to read? Come on, rainy day!!

Bunk mates
Made for creaking back and forth on.


The four-bedroom summer house where we stayed

Dock at boathouse
And from a couple of hikes:

Woodhull Reservoir--reserved since 1870

Flat Rock trail. Mit Hund.

Hope you haven't read down to the bottom. I hope you hate this blog and the place. If you want more details about a stay there, the ALC is unlisted and off the grid. 

Me, I'm going back. Soon, I hope.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

New England does summer - Crane Beach, Ipswich

Green head (photo credit

New England in early summer is a true delight--warm days, cool nights, bright green trees and luscious flowering plants. And truly lackadaisical mosquitoes. Seriously, compared to Brazilian mosquitoes, the American ones are smoking weed and living life in the slow lane. Brazilian mosquitoes will bite you so fast you don't even know they're there until they buzz in your ear in a zzzzzzz of "got ya, sucka!" as they leave. American ones do not buzz in your ear. No, they circle for a bit, then sit their big butts down and drink a slurpee. They die in large numbers in our Brazilian-trained household--we are fast with a slap.

So, I've gotten to be a bit blasé about American bugs. Yeah, ticks are a bitch and I don't want lyme disease but in São Paulo's concrete jungle my dog got canine tick disease three times and here in the mecca of deer ticks, no one, not even me and Coalie the woods walkers, have gotten a bite. I am knocking wood on the dining room table at the moment.  

Brazilian ants are not to be trifled with either; one took out a large chomp of one toddler son's finger tip and others crawled out of an ant hill and up a kid's pants leg until you could hear the screams down the block.  The bites can itch and burn for days. 

Yesterday morning, BH and I decided that we wanted to have a beach day today. A one-day trip, hopefully not more than an hour and a half from home. My parents had toddled off to Martha's Vineyard with my brother's family so we were, I suppose, feeling some summertime envy. I remembered that a neighbor had gone to a place called "Crane Beach" a few weeks ago, and I decided to check in for advice on parking and distances. 

The neighbor answered my text with advice to arrive by 10 am but to call first. That it was green head season and I should ask the beach operator how bad they were.  And I said "Ack, wtf are green heads?" And her answer was "When they land on you and start sucking your blood, blood-curdling screams will echo on Mars." And I thought, holy crap, what are these suckers?

Green head.

I looked them up here and saw that these are nasty inch-long beasts with green eyes which give them the green head name. They live in the salt marsh (and are also known as salt marsh horseflies) that is near Crane Beach, then come out in the first weeks of July and suck every living beach goer dry. This was not something I was looking forward to, given my past experience with the borrachudo at BH's family beach. Have I mentioned these evil things? They are tiny, so tiny you never see them before they bite you HARD, then the bite itches for about a week. No kidding. That long. They are the pestilence of São Paulo state beaches. 

So I was worried. Unfortunately I told my kids I was worried. And so they worried. I decided I would check with another friend who lives in Falmouth, MA about beach conditions there "Kim," I texted, "there are green heads in Ipswich, how are things down there at the Cape?" And she answered "Green heads are around but I haven't noticed them on the beach. Rumor is stinging jelly fish though." And I thought to myself, WTF New England????? I get through Snowmaggedon and slow spring mosquitoes and ticks and traffic and general New England CRAP and now you have Bugmaggedon for July? Oh, all right, stinging jelly fish are not bugs. Thank you, editors. Menace-maggedon. Let's not even get started on the great white sharks spotted off of Cape Cod. 

We, intrepid world travelers that we are, decided to risk it. We hopped in the car at 8:30 and got to the outskirts (read: the salt marsh) at Crane at 9:30 am. As we waited to pay our entrance fee, a number of buzzy beasts attacked the car. My kids squealed like it was Hitchcock's The Birds. Yep, I had stressed them but good. We parked the car in row six (that was one busy beach) and as we were getting out, two green heads flew in. They are not quick. I killed them with a flip-flop. My kids were impressed by my kung fu moves. 

The pretty Crane Beach. Minus buzzy things.

Crane Beach is pretty awesome. Like a Guarujá awesome, if you are Brazilian. Like a Key Biscayne beach awesome, if you are American. Wide beach, filled with colorful umbrellas and lots and lots of people. Great soft sand, not too noisy, kid and adult friendly. No waves. FREEZING cold water. I will never ever complain about Guaecá again. I could not feel my toes thirty seconds after walking in, and had to slap them back to life after getting out. Dang, New England beaches are not for the weak.

Ah, back to Bugmaggedon. Well, they are annoying, I will give them that. There were not many--of course we were tri-layered in Deet, OFF, sunscreen so they were probably a little taken aback by us. And they are slow and large. Infinitely more killable than borrachudos in Brazil. Not nearly as painful and not at all itchy after the bite. I took one bite on the ankle--it felt roughly like a needle being quickly inserted and then it felt like the slap that it took to kill that slow-moving buggo. No itch. So, no offense to my well-meaning neighbor, but that bug is an amateur next to the South Americans. A CONCACAF bug playing with Libertadores teams.

Yeah, at noon more came out and we did eventually leave when we got tired of slapping our legs. Surely the season gets worse as the sign at the gate reads "Green head season. No refunds." So, they will cause pain, just not yet. To the Brazilians.

Happy Summer!