Monday, July 11, 2016

Boogie Parenting - Ribeirão Preto, Brazil

Buggy aka "Boogie"

I'm not much of a helicopter parent. I grew up in my parents' school of "go have fun, be back when the porch bell rings, and if you're muddy, that's fine, just go clean it off." Yes, I wore a helmet when bike riding (at least until I got around the corner and out of sight of mom) and wore a seat belt and was pretty clear on right and wrong ways to get back at my older brother (sarcasm, yes; chop up his favorite blanket into small bits, no) but I had a wonderful, nature-filled and independent (to a point) childhood. Thanks, mom and dad! 

Now I try to do the same. I don't let the kids ride bikes without helmets, they don't get on a pony in any country without a helmet, and they won't own hoverboards or motorcycles in my lifetime. Yes, I will chase them down when they are 35 years old and on Harleys, and knock them off. I did not go through NICU bull-oney to have them splatter it all on a roadway.

That being said, I have been known to let them out of my sight. They disappear to neighbor's houses, to a town park across the street from a hotel in Vermont (that was not popular with the mother of the girl with whom they were playing) and I don't have a porch bell, nor really a porch, but maybe I shall invest in the former.  

And then I get to Brazil. And the "boogie". The "boogie" is really the "buggy" pronounced cutely in Portuguese. It makes me smile every time--"the kids are off in the booooogie"....yes, yes, they are. 

Interior of the boogie. Fancy, no? No engine cover.

The buggy is a deathmobile designed by lunatics, or possibly my inlaws. Just kidding. It runs on diesel or some kind of fuel that smells like you are going to blow up within seconds. It has no muffler, no environmental protection, emits gigantic mushroom clouds of thick grey smoke and seems a heartbeat from exploding at all times. It's possibly 40 years old, has marginal brakes and extremely tough manual steering. It is the most fun that two generations of BH's kids have ever had. I say two generations because almost 15 years separate my stepkids from my kids. Until they see the buggy.

15 years ago, I watched my stepkids roar around the farm with their uncle on its "seats"--currently thick-cut foam, but other iterations have been cardboard pieces and other flotsam--screaming with laughter, no helmets or seatbelts. I will have to find the photos when I get back to the US of my stepkids when they were small so I can put together a retrospective on the buggy (I hope you are all saying "boogie" in your minds).


So when I saw the yellow and rust colored buggy parked out back of the weekend house last week, I knew that the air was about to get a whole lot more polluted. And sure enough, the day after we arrived, my son Lalo disappeared out the back door with Marcos, the ranch manager for the last 20 years. Marcos is a calm presence who has adored my kids from day one, even as they break various items, mess up, well, everything, and make his day just a little bit tougher. He just smiles and fixes what's broken. I have no worries about Marcos, except for one: he finds Lalo, my kid who takes risks and lots of them, extremely hilarious. 

While eating my second piece of delicious French bread, the house was suddenly shaken by a sound roughly like 14 semi trailers simultaneously starting up and colliding at the same time. The air was filled with the smell of an oil refinery. Suppressing my helicopter thoughts, I sashayed down the hall in my moose pyjamas to see what was going on. Too late. In a cloud of dust and dung (one of my favorite lines from a Hobbit sendoff book), Marcos and Lalo were off--Marcos sitting up on top seat back and Lalo steering and working the iffy accelerator and brake. 

Off they went down the driveway, disappearing around the corner. I pretty much knew where they were from the cloud of smoke following the car, and they got suspiciously close to the roadway. No helmet. No seatbelt. Marcos. L.a.l.o. As in, who is in charge here? The big kid or the little kid?

Big Kid and Little Kid arrive back. With smoke cloud.

I refilled my coffee and Nico and I went to watch the arrival of the pair back on the driveway. While no good pictures exist of this moment, I cannot tell you the happy looks of Marcos and Lalo as they roared by. Nico had just finished saying "I want to go next!" when the buggy zipped across the lawn, and crashed into the only light pole on the whole property. Nico and I watched as the pole fell over as if in slow motion. [I have a video of this moment but I can't get it to load up--where are my teenagers when I need them?]

I started to laugh. Yeah, I'm a bad mommy. I didn't even know if someone had been hurt so it was not a good reaction. But the whole lightpole-in-slow-motion-crash was simply hilarious. It was like America's funniest home videos. Nico said immediately "I don't want to go anymore" and Lalo called out "I'm fine, mom" and Marcos was still moving so all's well that ends with a broken lightpole. And a buggy hood with a huge crevice in it. The steel bumpers were fine, by the way. The buggy is a champ.

Two hours later the lightpost was fixed (it was actually a rusty bolt that caused it to fall over) and the buggy had a new silver scar up its front hood. Unfortunately for the kids (and fortunately for everyone else) the temperamental buggy would not start again that day or the next. But it will be back, of that I am sure. It's indestructible. Much like my nerves.

Back to the US tonight. And helmets.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Re-re-patriation starts with soccer - São Paulo, Brazil

Lalo with the Palmeiras mascot, which is a parakeet (who plays pretty good soccer at halftime)

There is so much to say about my return to Brazil after 10 months away. I cannot possibly cover it in one blog. So, my first blog will cover the most important: soccer. 

That there is a joke: as some of you know from my old blog Brazil in My Eyes, I am not a soccer aficionado. There is a multitude of reasons for that, mostly to do with the play-acting, lack of replay fairness and well, too many tattoos. Seriously, calm it down, Messi, or there will be no real estate left on your body.

But of course, Messi is not ours; he is not Brazilian. So here in Brazil I cheer for Palmeiras, the team of my husband and his Italian family. Lots and lots of Italian-descent fans. Lots of emotion, lots of really interesting swears. Some are not as interesting swears. The most common one is used interchangeably with the words "the" or "a". In fact, I was first convinced that the team had not changed at all from when I last saw them two years ago: all of the players on the field have the last name: "filhodaputa". Miss a shot? :FDP! Ref misses a call "FDP!" My 9-year old caught on to all the swearing for the first time--at age 7, he didn't get it, but now the questions were fast and furious on "what does "caral**" mean? But I get ahead of myself.

The last time I was with the heroes in green, they were temporarily playing at Pacaembu, the world's cutest and most decrepit stadium. You can meet it here (my former blog) if you wish. I loved Pacaembu--the views of the city, the crumbling concrete seats, the Ionic columns at the front door. Alas, we have a big new stadium. Big. Beautiful. May I say it? It looks like a US stadium, except perhaps BETTER. 

So it's now the Allianz Parque Palestra Italia. Allianz is the German company which fronted the bucks, and Palestra Italia is the name of the old stadium. Directly translated I see that Palestra Italia is "Italian Lecture". I do not know the source of such a name, but it works for me--if this is an Italian lecture, I am buying. 

Listen, kids, there are CUSHIONED seats. We were about 20 rows up at midfield and I could see the players sweat. We were very close to the field. Not true at the old Pacaembu. True perhaps at the New England Revolution but only because they play at Gillette, which is not exactly a soccer stadium.  Also they have 20 fans so it's pretty easy to see. 

I have to say that getting into a soccer stadium in Brazil is one of my least favorite things. First you have to pass through massive masses of massing humanity. All wearing green or white. 95% males. All gathered on a side street buying cheaper beer out of coolers, snacking on questionable food (see the cat barbecue here), buying $10 knock-off soccer shirts (yep, we got one for Lalo) and milling about. Massing. Try keeping track of your small child in this. Skeery. No violence. Just lots of people. Lots. Last night's crowd in the stadium: 32,000. Outside the stadium, at least a couple thousand more. 

When you finally get to your gate, it's time for your "revision." I have grown used to being pat down by a female military police officer. Some are pretty rough, some, like the one last night, patted down my sides and waist and just said "have a good night!". Then run your fidelity card (yah, my husband is card-carrying loyal to the green ones) and zippy-zip, you're in!

When we got to our seats, most folks were already in. The teams had been introduced and it was time to stand for the Brazilian Anthem. Except it was not the Brazilian anthem. It was the Anthem on the big screens and on the speakers but the entire crowd sang "Palmeiras" along with all of the words. Seriously, a whole anthem with the words Palmeiras or Meu Palmeiras (my Palmeiras). The video I took was terrible but someone got a good one here. I thought the whole thing rather sacrilegious or disrespectful perhaps of the country's anthem, but I don't sing it anyway, so what do I care? I tried not to laugh too much.

My neighbor with Palmeiras and fire tattoos up and down his arm and a bicep bigger than my head sang very enthusiastically. He was quite a good chanter and singer the whole night. I liked him except when he accidentally elbowed me in the head after the third goal--then I literally saw stars. Here is the photo I thought was in focus when I took it but turns out I was very very fuzzy myself:

A lot of the chants have to do with pigs (Palmeiras' nickname) and pigsties. Then there's "Dá-lhe, porco" which I always hear as "Vale, porco" or thanks very much, pig. But I think it actually means "give them hell, pig". I should not be counted on as anyone's Portuguese teacher.

I will spare you all the play by play on the game. Suffice it to say that there are lots of good young players on the Palmeiras team of today, and my favorite "old guy" Prass is the only one I remember from two years ago. He is the goalie, and he just made the Brazil Olympic soccer team at age 37. Ah, there is one other old guy on the team, José Roberto, who at age 41, has LOTS of energy. Also, he has really good hair.

Jose Roberto. Great hair.

So Lalo made me choose my favorite player who is not Prass. Not sure why I wasn't allowed Prass as I actually own a Prass jersey but whatever. I had to choose a new guy. Just then, Jesus got a goal. Yes, it's true! My neighbor started yelling "Vai Jesus!!" (Go, Jesus!) and I thought, say, the Catholics have come out in numbers. Oh, there is a 19-year old player named Gabriel Jesus. He is now my favorite non-Prass. Who can resist yelling "Go, Jesus!"? Not me. 
Jesus. No, I am not swearing

Lalo chose an 18 year old named Roger Guedes. Yes, Roger. Why this strikes me as funny, I don't know. I now have a glass of wine while writing this so that may be why. Lalo chose Roger because he has blond hair...and yeah, he also is pretty good. Very good. He apparently got a couple of assists on goals but I was busy avoiding the elbow of doom from the neighbor. 

Roger Guedes. Does he look like Lalo? See below.

All right, so the game went on and on and on and we cheered and we swore and we jumped around, etc. At halftime they took out an inflatable pig with big teeth for a tour of the field (umm, what?) and the parakeet balanced a ball on his claws. Then our brand new player went out on the field and said hello. Mina, I think it is. Colombian, I think. Could not understand his intro video.

Okay, out of focus but that is a giant inflatable floating green pig with fangs.And Mina.  I've got nothing.

Game over (yeah, I skipped a bit). Palmeiras 4 - Figueirense 0. As we are filing out past a couple of long-time (ahem, older than 60 years) fans, the first man looks at Lalo and his blond hair and says "Roger Guedes!!! and Lalo looks a bit nervous. I said, yes, this is Roger's younger brother. The older guy's friend then looks at Lalo, grabs Lalo by both sides of his head and kisses the top of his head. Apparently by being blond, Lalo has saved the team. We walked out a bit faster.

Outside everything was ending in pizza (another blog post explains that phrase of "tudo acaba em pizza") and seriously it did. There were piles of pizza boxes, and people were buying them up and carrying them off to wait for the metro. God love a Palmeiras game and its Italian fans. But BH, the Brazilian husband, was after something else: "pernil" sandwiches. 
Pernil is ham but you have no idea how this sandwich is not an American ham sandwich. Warm ham chopped off the bone with a paint scraper (I am not kidding), shredded with same paint scraper, and served on a crusty roll with tomatoes and onions. O.M.G. All served out of the back of a tiny hatchback by a woman and her husband (he took drink orders--beer or Coke-- and moved around plastic stools for people to sit on). I cannot even begin to tell you the yum. 

And so we were off home in a taxi where we listened to the talk radio about the game and cracked jokes with the Palmeirense taxi driver about their rival team Corinthians. A really good time was had by all.

So happy to be back. More soon.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Stronger - Boston, MA

Boston Marathon 2016, Newton MA
Our family was invited to our first ever marathon-watching party a couple of weeks ago. Boston Marathon 2016, Patriot's Day, April 18. Our friends' house is in Newton, at about mile 19.5 of the 26.2 mile course, a half mile from the start of the so-called Heartbreak Hill. We brought a salad, some guacamole, some folding chairs and a big sign that said CAW! I'll get to that in a minute. 

The last Boston Marathon I watched was at Wellesley College way back in the middle of last century. Okay, not quite but it seems like that sometimes. Wellesley is situated about halfway through the marathon course and most students, having the day off for Patriot's Day (only in Massachusetts and even then there are those who don't get it--Harvard for one), come out to cheer the runners. 

Back in my day,  we just cheered by picking out things written on t-shirts--we yelled "Go, Maine" or "Go Blue" for the Michigan folks, or whatever was on their non-lycra shirts. Which reminds me: no one wears a cotton shirt anymore. Or shorts. Now we run in underpants. Is that bad for our environment? I mean lycra not underpants. But I digress. 

Now a lot of Wellesley women show up out on the streets with "Kiss me, I'm  XXXX" where "XXXX" might be Irish, bored or a senior. I don't love that but then again, I recognize I am old and don't know how to use snapchat nor want an unknown sweaty runner to kiss me. And they me, probably. Anyhoo.

One of my favorite races to watch (and run) is San Francisco's Bay to Breakers. Not a marathon, but a 12K from one shore to the other, and let's just say that clothing was optional when I ran it in 1991. I am guessing it is much the same. One guy cheering us on was fully clothed in the front, then turned around to show no back to his outfit, wagging his butt at us to motivate us. I did in fact run faster at that point. I miss San Francisco. No one was hanging their butt out in Boston--yeah, the weather has something to do with it.

It wasn't to show that I was "Boston Strong" that I wanted to watch the race, or even because I never refuse a barbecue and potluck. It is because of a guy named Gary and another one named Michael. While I have never met Michael in person, and Gary I have met only once six years ago, they are inspiration of a level that makes me consider running "competitively" again. Not as in trying win, but as in, actually going out to run more than once a week.

Gary is the director of the Mount Desert Island Marathon, the world's most beautiful marathon, coincidentally located on my favorite island. Haven't heard of MDI? What about Acadia National Park, one of our country's most visited parks? Or Bar Harbor, a town steeped in a rich past, now with really good ice cream and an eat-in movie theatre that completely makes my day. The theatre serves beer. And good pizza. It almost makes me amenable to watch Frozen, if that is the only movie playing there. I'd need a lot of beer.

I met Gary six years ago when a friend (and Bar Harbor native), my husband and I decided to run the MDI Marathon as a three-person relay.  It was an incredible experience--not only for the course's beauty but because Mainers are so danged awesome. Because we had gathered a bit of local Bar Harbor fame for coming all the way from Brazil to run as "Team Brazil", we were known at the breakfast spot (and greeted by a Brazilian server!), talked about by a friend who waits tables during the summer season, and I was tapped on the shoulder at mile 4 and asked if I was from Brazil by the passing runner--apparently her server had mentioned us the night before. 

Team Brazil at the start

The MDI race is so beautiful you almost forget that you are coughing out a lung on some of the hills. In and out of the October-colored trees, along the coast, through empty streets. Yes, a few people do come out to cheer you on but let's face it, at a year-round population of 10,000, you'd better be your own best cheerleader. I think I ran a race in São Paulo that had more runners than MDI has residents. Also I have to say that Brazilians are not great spectator-cheering folks. I don't recall anyone setting up a chair outside their house to watch. More like complain about the runners for messing up traffic.

On my MDI run, I was accompanied by a playlist chosen by friends who had donated to MDI Hospital, the cause we were supporting for the marathon. Not sure I'd make that rash promise again since Justin Bieber's Baby just about ruined mile 5 for me. At the end of that race, Gary, as race director, interviewed me about coming up from Brazil. And we ended up in third place of three-person relay teams and got ourselves a rock.

I kept in touch with Gary from time to time to see what was going on. A lot, really. Gary lives on Great Cranberry Island where the summer population reaches 300. Year-round population? 40. The island is two miles long and one mile wide --and it is where Gary trains for marathons. Not just runs them, but RUNS them--he has run five decades of sub-three hour marathons. And the Boston Marathon 2016 was his 100th marathon. I can't even make a joke here. It's just amazing. 

In December Gary was diagnosed with lyme disease, an extremely bad bout of it. Until three days before the marathon, he didn't know if he was going to run it.  But then he went to New York with another Crow Athletics (the local running club) runner and he too became inspired. The Crow that inspired him? Michael Westphal, who suffers from Parkinson's Disease, and was running the race as a fundraiser for Team Fox.

Michael Westphal, Team Fox (and Crow Athletics), photo credit: Chloe Emerson

In the good old days, it was pretty hard to find the person you were waiting for. Imagine the thousands of runners; even knowing which wave they are in makes it tough. Now there is an app for that. Type in your friend's number or name, and bingo, you can watch as they fly (or creep by) the 10K, 10 mile, 20K, 30K marks. The bad news is that is that when you don't see them check in when you expect them to, you start to get a bit nervous.

It is not my story to tell, but Gary had a tough race. Or not. He calls it his best race. He was not sub-3 hours. I made my kids wait for him--we patiently held our "CAW" for Crow Athletics (get it?) and watching my phone. 

First came Michael, slowly but efficiently making his way past the house. He was on the opposite side of the street and I am not sure he heard our "CAWS" or "Yay, Michael!"s. Then the mom of one of Lalo's soccer friends went by--smiling, waving without any sign of pain or exhaustion. Seriously she could have been in a homecoming parade, as long as lycra was the year's theme.

Then we waited again. Finally the green line on the app that was Gary crossed the 30K mark, and we pushed to the side of the road to cheer. He was on the opposite side of the street, but came over as soon as he saw my son and me with the sign and my Crow Athletics sweatshirt. He stopped and hugged me, chatting about how he felt, and how he had seen friends from Cranberry and other places along the route. He was going to finish that 100th marathon that day, and soon he turned and jogged up the hill, fighting off the lyme disease fatigue. I admit it made me a little emotional and I had to claim a gnat in my eye when my son asked me why I was crying. 

Gary Allen, inspiration. Photo is not mine, but I don't have the credit...
What drives a marathoner? I will never know. I hear it is an addiction, a high like no other. I can only imagine that Boston is a total addiction--so many people come out and cheer along the route. Many on either side of us knew multiple runners--it seems so much a local marathon, but of course it is world class. We had seen the Kenyan and Ethiopian (among others) elite race past earlier. Later, it felt like we were all out at a big Boston block party. Everyone wore pants. Both sides.

When we got home, I immediately went over to the MDI Marathon site to sign up. Alas, the three person relay team entry is full. I am not ready to do a half marathon again. Or am I? Hmmm. In any case, I renewed my Crow Athletics membership--the best $10 ever spent, and I'll be seeing you around, Gary. Maybe from the sidelines. Maybe not. 

Run MDI.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

An Attempt to Ignore What is Really Going On.... Car magnets


So, what to do on a day when you are horrified by politics in your home country (oh, all right, one comment: exactly how do you not let your president do his job because he is nine months from not having that job? I don't get it--no I don't want comments on this part) and nauseous from the St. Patty's day mini-cupcakes you stress-gobbled while reading that Brazil's former president who was arrested last week, popped out like ping-pong ball covered in grease, and now has been named a minister three days after millions of people protested him, the government, the sitting president? 

Well, in the absence of a margarita and the simple fact that you hate tequila anyway, you write a frivolous blog about your daily life in a lunatic country that grows more glaringly louco every day. Note to self: file for third nationality--how do the Dutch feel about someone who left their country two hundred years ago? Wait, no, I'm not that old... the descendant of someone who left Friesland during a plague in 1860? We have a plague here. So asylum in Amsterdam, here I come. 

Here it is: frivolous blog.  Car magnets. NO, seriously, I need to talk about car magnets.  I love them. I have five of them between two cars and I admit it's getting a little busy on the back bumper of the hooptie, my beloved 13 year old sedan. But I refuse to choose.

There are no car magnets in Brazil. Why? I don't know. Maybe they would be stolen. Maybe no one cares enough about their club team, summer home, college, national park or private school. Or maybe they don't want to show that they have the above because maybe they would get bonked over the head for it. Or maybe they don't feel the need to be show-offs and clubby insular types like we do here in the northeast. Because I think we're talking mostly northeast that does this, no? Calling all Alabamans who read my blog: do you have a car magnet?  What does it have on it?

I love car magnets because I love to try to figure out what they mean or which school or whatever they are from. Here's an example: white circle with PARK inside it. No, you are not getting admonished to pull over. That is a private school. It is nice. We sometimes get to go play soccer there when they need our rental money.  Ditto BBBBBBN. Wait, I think I exaggerated the Bs. Nice private school. Meadowbrook School has one and it is fancy-- some totem or what do you call those Veritas kinds of emblems? I could not get a shot of it last week as Mr. MDX with the Meadowbrook magnet attempted warp speed around the corner by the bus stop. Thank goodness it's private school spring break. Anyway...

Now, when you see ACK, that is not a comment on your driving either. I'd like to put an ACK next to a PARK and see what happens.  ACK! PARK! Achtung!  ACK is the airport code for Nantucket. If you have that on your car, I would like to be your friend. You have a nice second home, wear crawfish-emblazoned shorts, and possibly have gin and tonics. No margaritas. I am available most weekends in June.

Some have no letters. Like this one:

Yep, this is on my car. It is a black dog. I got it because I too have a black dog. His name is Coal. Most people have that magnet because they have a house on an island called Martha's Vineyard where there is a shop called The Black Dog. That was a heap-expensive magnet. I think I paid more for it than my rescue dog. Wait, did I say rescue dog? I meant pedigreed black lab. 

The other magnet on my suv is for NEFC. New England Football Club, or NE Futbol Club. So yes, we just translate that one little "F" word so we appear international. One son plays for this club team. The magnet was free with me agreeing to be the manager. All glory, I tell you. Well, quite a few losses. But it's pretty, no?

On the hooptie, we also have a magnet that I have seen a version without any writing on it. That is the totally top secret version. So it looks like a set of green lungs but is actually Mount Desert Island which harbors the incredibly lovely Acadia National Park. Or ANP if you prefer that magnet. If any of you were privvy to my facebook post about my Mercedes-SUV driving handyman, you will know that he said to me, when he saw the magnet: "hey we have to talk about MDI sometime--I have a house there." Please note the use of "a" house.  I have "a" house too that is bankrupting me on mortgages and paying Weston-living handymen with houses in MDI. Sigh.

Yeah, if you're a great athlete you probably also have some crossed oars or 13.1 or 26.2, distances that make me throw up just thinking about them. Well I could put a 13.1 on my car from the Rio half a few years ago but well, things are busy on the hooptie.

So, what's on your car? Besides road salt and squished bugs? No, I don't want to hear about your political bumper stickers. Speaking of which, why are most political stickers actually stickers not car magnets? That takes quite a bit of commitment when the Republicans are dropping out like flies, no? Maybe you could just stick the next one on top... CARLY.... wait, no,...., JEB, oh crud, just go with KASICH and then I won't feel the need to scratch your paint.  Just kidding. I would never do that. Seriously. 

Okay, so I can only hope that this fluffball of a blog has diverted at least my mom, my most loyal reader, from an afternoon of political chaos. I'll let you know when I print up my car magnets that read "WCPGW?" - I'll let you have one free.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Loafin' ... part deux - Carrabassett Valley, Maine

Partial view of Sugarloaf from the Base Lodge
One of my favorite highways signs ever reads "Maine: Life as It Should Be." It's on Interstate 95 as you cross from New Hampshire (don't blink! That is one teeny state on the 95 trail) to Maine. I see it at least a couple of times every summer as I visit friends near Acadia National Park and a friend's camp near Freeport. Don't get me started on the word "camp" as a northeasterner's word for anything from a cabin on a lake to a CAMP like Camp David is a camp. Anyway, not my point.

On Saturday afternoon, we saw this sign as we headed up to Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine. And so, I should warn you all that this is my blog love note to Sugarloaf. No, not the Pão de Açucar (Sugarloaf in Portuguese) in Rio which is pretty awesome but covered in my old blog called Brazil in My Eyes. No, this is our American Sugarloaf: a ski mountain and so much more.  If you have read my blog before, you will see part one here from last year. This is part deux.  La Revanche.

I am not so worried that this second blog-ode to Sugarloaf will mean that there will be a traffic jam on the way up next time. It is 4 hours from here in Weston--it is not for faint of heart. It is also, in my opinion, the only place in New England ski country that you can experience all four seasons (well, okay, three, summer misses it) in one day. Or half day. This is not necessarily a plus on a ski mountain. 

We started going to Sugarloaf a year ago during the Snowmaggedon winter. Why Sugarloaf? Our neighbors were going for the four-day MLK weekend, and I convinced also a Wellesley classmate who lives in Freeport (yes, she of the "camp" reference) to come for a couple of days. Last year, Snowmaggedon started on January 22 more or less. MLK weekend was four days before snow. Instead, we got one day of -9 windchill, one day of perfect sunny weather and ice (no New England ski adventure is complete, or even started, without a great deal of ice), and then it rained all night and we skied on slush and grass. It was THE BEST.

Before you think that I have vodka in my coffee this morning, I will tell you why it was the best (or you can read last year's blog post...but let me bullet point it).

1. Ski in, ski out. Since I grew up in Connecticut, we never ever went away for a ski weekend. We got up at the crack of midnight to drive up and then drive back in one day. Ski in, ski out of a condo means you can have a nice lunch for less than $30 and it tastes much better than cardboard. Sorry, Sugarloaf, but your restaurant is terrible.
2. Widowmaker. This is the bar with a view at Sugarloaf where we gave up on icy day and sat and drank yummy $400 beers. 
3. The ski school. Sugarloaf's is the best. My beginning skiers last year learned to ski without fear, got hot chocolate approximately every half-hour on the freezing cold day, made new friends, and I got to ski with my friends on the "real" trails.
4. Fewer New Yorkers. Nah, I'm just kidding, especially since I was born in NYC. In general, there are just fewer people than the mountains within 2-3 hours of metropolises (metropoli?). Sorry, Portland, you are not a metropolis: you are adorable. 
 5. Friends old and new. There is nothing like a ski vacation with 8 kids of varied ages. It's freakin' fun.

Ski school fun

So this year, we could not make it happen for MLK day weekend. So we went, with the usual suspects, for the second weekend of February winter break. And during those three days we got another Sugarloaf weather "surprise" along with a ride that would be envied by Universal Studios or Disneyworld. The suicide beginner trail. This was a green-circle (beginner) trail through the woods which is normally pretty and easy...but was on this day, sheer green ice. Never seen green ice? That is because normally there is white stuff on top of it. We were down to the glacier.

So what made it suicidal? It was impossible to stop, even for us intermediate skiers. So we literally screamed our way down it. I tried to stop once, hit a tree root and did a 360 into a mogul (that was not a mogul, but possible a beaver dam) and finally came to a stop to watch my friend Wendy scream to a stop right behind me and then we both bent over laughing hysterically. Not happy laughter--we still had half the trail to go. 

Without question, that was the worst double-black diamond I have ever been down, yet it was only a green. Why pay for Big Thunder Railroad when you have skiing in the Northeast? For the same price as a day at Disney, and no need for Fastpass, you can scream yourself silly. With a helmet, please.

For a good time of superlatives, make sure to read the Sugarloaf Mountain Daily trails report. I imagine the person writing it has been up all night blowing snow (inhaling smoke)  and grooming trails, because his/her reality is vastly different than mine. Like "moderate" snow gusts of 30 miles an hour. What exactly defines strong snow gusts?  A nor'easter? Tornado? It is not fun being on a lift with moderate snow gusts. Trust me. 

Then the report continues on to tell about snow squalls, ice, lifts closed due to winds, 30 trails closed for lack of snow, ya-de-ya, and then ends with the line "It's going to be a GREAT day on the mountain." I assume that was said with the exhale of a large amount of medical marijuana. Seriously?  My Freeport friend and her teenage kids did ski, as did my kids and neighbor's kids, but me, I turned in my ticket for a credit and watched the Weather Channel in the ski lodge. I am too old. 

So we got to use these credits yesterday. We drove up as far as Farmington (an hour from the mountain) Saturday night, had an enormous dinner, and then on to Sugarloaf on Sunday morning. We learned a trick--always, always ski on Sundays if you hate lines. 

We had the best New England ski day ever. Sun, glorious sun to begin the day. Snowmaking had created lots of lovely new snow, and the minimum of ice. By 1 pm, we could ski into the Superquad with no lines. Up and down the hill. The kids skied with us, then they skied alone (one is snowboarding now), then they built an ice sculpture, then we ate a bunch of cardboard food. 

Let's face it. We'll never be the family with the ski house, the ski team kids, and well, even our own equipment. We love rental equipment and wearing other people's smelly boots. We love screaming down ice chutes, laughing our butts off and renting crappy condos. We are the riff-raff of the mountain. But my son who had to walk down the scary hill last year? This year he smoked me on the same slope while telling me stories about lynxes (no I didn't hear most of them). The other kid can snowboard and ski now.

Disney can kiss my bindings on this whole surge pricing business: for $100/day and all the laughs and thrills you can imagine, I choose Sugarloaf. Life as it should be.
Riff raff on a snowboard with a view

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Kids of Many Countries - Weston, MA

One Chilean-Brazilian and two American-Brazilians on a mountain.

This past long weekend we were visited for the second time by my son Nico's best friend Ricardo from Brazil. In fact, besides family, he is our only repeat visitor--apparently Weston has been put on some watch list that makes it dangerous for my friends to visit. It is true that we have really mean deer. But that's not my point. 

Ricardo (name changed for privacy) is a child of the world. His parents are both Brazilian, but he was born in Chile, and grew up in Mexico and Panama before moving back to Brazil. Our kids met in kindergarten at the small British-language school they attended for three years in São Paulo. Ricardo still attends that school, and has seen every one of his closest friends leave year after year--the result of having a lot of ex-patriate families in the school. 

The best part of this expatriate school, in my opinion, is  making international friends. Yes, it is a private and expensive school, so the diversity is in the cultural backgrounds, not the economic. My kids were friends with South Africans, Australians, Indians, among others. Many of the kids were on their second or third expatriate experience. 

After we moved from Brazil in July 2014, the kids keep in touch now by skype or through their parents emailing about their lives. And sometimes in-person visits--Ricardo was the second from the school, we also had a one-evening visit by friends heading up to Montreal from New York (how Boston was on the way, I will never know, but I love it!). We have also made an effort on two visits to Brazil to get the kids with their friends.

Touch tank at the New England Aquarium

Here the kids played like crazy. They made up fantasies about superheroes and Star Wars, animal tales and dance shows. While three is often a difficult number to get to play nicely, the arguments and tears were few and far between. For five days, the kids played in the snow, went for a day trip skiing, went to the science museum and the aquarium and laughed and talked in two (and sometimes three--my kids massacre Spanish pretty well) languages. 

The kids remember their lives in Brazil in funny ways. During yesterday's make-believe session, Lalo was a superhero who was bullet-proof. Unless you shot him six times in the exact same spot. Somehow Lalo had remembered that the bullet-proofing on our Volvo in Brazil was Level 3--and that this could withstand up to five bullets shot in the same spot on the car--the sixth would penetrate. That made me more than a bit sad to think about early childhood and bulletproofing, but also made me smile to know that once in a long while, my kid listens to me. :)

One of the only things that bothers my kids about Ricardo is that he is in fourth grade while they are in third-- when he is almost six months younger than them. No amount of reiteration that the cut-off of ages is different between Brazil and the US will help. All they know is that Ricardo will graduate high school before them, and that "sucks". The only way I could make them feel better was to remind them that they will drive before Ricardo (driving age in Brazil is 18, here 16). 

Repatriation is a long process, and more difficult emotionally than I expected for reasons I have talked about before. But then in talking with Ricardo's mom, I realized that there is really no such thing as re-patriation. You can never re-patriate. Because living in a different country for years changes you indelibly. You are never happy in just one place again--you miss certain things about different cultures in any place you have lived. 

I miss the familiarity and sociability of Brazil. I miss our weekend house with no phone or internet, just the forever sky and woods. I see the US with new eyes and have less patience with the gun situation, with the legal sue-everyone-for-everything and the rules for everything. Yes, the latter is what makes the US work, but wouldn't it be nice to have a breakdown or two once in a while without a lawsuit or a gun being involved?

On Tuesday, we also received an automated message from the school superintendent about a bomb threat made against schools in Weston. Fortunately there were no kids in school on Tuesday. Sweeps were made of the schools; nothing was found. At least 15 other school districts were also hit with bomb threats and had to evacuate. 

What a world. My world. 

For now.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Love Herself Has Rest - Weston, MA

Haifa, age 12, Maine

On the first day of 2016, I had to say goodbye to my rock, my Haifa dog. She was just 17 days shy of her 13th birthday, and three months shy of celebrating four years in our family. Haifa is the dog who convinced me of the joy in rescuing animals, and especially the love of senior dogs. She was nine years old when we adopted her. 

In 2010 we were living in Brazil, and we had lost our yellow lab Chopp to laryngeal paralysis at Christmas time. Our chocolate lab Caju, then 12 years old, went into mourning. He moped around for four months before I decided that we should adopt an older dog to be his companion. I didn't think Caju would appreciate a puppy, but I was somewhat worried about a rescue dog since my kids were still young (five years old) and I thought of the risks of a dog with unknown aggression issues. I decided to pursue a senior labrador.

After talking with the vet, I sent a message to Brazil's largest labrador breeding kennel. The owner called me later that day to express her shock that I wanted a senior dog--she had never been asked that before. She said she would think about it, then she sent me a note later that week saying that she had three retired breeding females, one of each color, and all available for free. 

I went online and looked at each of those beautiful females. Then I got to Coffee Haifa (you can see the link here) and noticed that her grandfather (Power of Love) was also the father of Caju (my 12 year old lab). Crazy dog generations. It was fate: we had to adopt Caju's "niece". 

Haifa came to our home a week later, and she was in shocking condition. Dirty, confused, half-deaf, exhausted. For days she slept and lost her fur. She lost almost all her fur within two weeks. I have to give full credit and love to my husband BH for not making me give her back. She was ugly--a teat hanging almost to the ground and a giant growth on one paw.  But she wagged and wagged with that stubby tail, and light came into her eyes when she saw me. 

Haifa, 2012, after operating on her leg. Joanopolis, Brazil

Slowly she came to herself. Her head came up, her fur grew back, we operated on the teat and the growth. She played with Caju. Caju came back to life. We were going to rename her Daisy or something happy, but in the end she stayed Haifa. We once asked the old kennel why she was named Haifa and they couldn't remember. She bonded with me and would never be far from my feet. We took her with us to our weekend house in the country or to the farm in the interior of São Paulo state. She didn't care where she went as long as she was with us. Her tail wagged even when she could not hear us (her deafness became stronger with age). She was the happiest dog on earth--there were no bad days.

Haifa, 2013

Caju died in June 2014 of old age, then Haifa came with us to the US (story is here). She slowed down, eventually not walking much-- just a sniff around the front yard, or a stroll to the bus stop. I drove her twice to the trails at Lincoln conservation--she saw the beautiful lake, the wooded trails. She developed laryngeal paralysis, she suffered from tiny strokes that would make her fall over spontaneously; she got bladder stones and UTIs that were unstoppable. But she still clickety-clicked on her long nails to greet me at the stairs in the morning. She wagged her tail so hard that it would hurt if you were in the way. She pawed me for scratches in the morning, grrrrring with happiness.

She went downhill quickly when I traveled for three days in New York for the holidays. My amazing neighbor had to pretty much carry her outside to do her business--first Haifa lost use of her back legs, then on the day I returned home on December 31, she could not stand even on her front legs. She stopped eating. We stayed home on New Year's Eve--me knowing in my heart that she would be leaving us the next day.

In the early afternoon of January 1, I took her to Blue Pearl vets in Waltham. They could not find anything completely wrong--but she was breathing like Darth Vader due to her laryngeal paralysis and could not walk. I declined an MRI for her. I declined to think of surgery on the old girl. Steroids were not possible due to her bladder issues. It was time to let her go.

We went to the lounge where you say goodbye to your pets. Rugs and sofas, and a little remote with a button you press to call the vet who will put your dog to sleep. I put the Girl from Ipanema music on my phone--olha que coisa mais linda, mais cheia de graça. She was not full of grace, but I will say that everyone did smile when that girl passed by. She was love itself.

It was just me and Haifa. I cried and cried while she wagged at me and gave me a big slurp on the chin. I pressed the button. It was over quickly--first a sedative for her to sleep--she quickly dropped her head to sleep as if she were thankful for the rest. The vet hugged me as I cried. I went home to tell two devastated little kids. Coal, my other dog, has not left Haifa's bed until today. Today we are all a little better.

And Lord Byron's best poem echoes through my head several times a day. The heart must pause to breathe...and so it did...

So We'll Go No More a Roving

By Lord Byron (George Gordon)
So, we'll go no more a roving
   So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
   And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
   And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
   And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
   And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a roving
   By the light of the moon.