Wednesday, March 30, 2016

random musings since my last post



1. Jimmy and I went to see Lionel Richie in concert.  You can make fun if you want; it matters not to me.  All I'm saying is that if you lived your adolescence (or slightly later) in the 80s, Lionel Richie provided the soundtrack to the whole miserable existence and you know you love him for that reason alone.  What this means in practical terms is that we were on the youngish side of the audience.  To put it into perspective, the people sitting in front of us didn't take photos on their iPhone.  No, they used one of those old-school digital cameras that really nobody takes around anymore, except some old people.  It was that sort of crowd.  The sort of crowd that had to take frequent rest breaks after dancing through one song.  I have no great photos to share.  Suffice it to say that Lionel Richie is a fantastic performer who sings exactly what his audience wants to hear:  all the stuff from the Can't Slow Down album from 1983 (and yes, it was an album and not a CD) and even all the great Commodores hits.  A surprisingly fun night!

2.  Rio hosted a professional beach volleyball tournament, which I attended for several days.  There is something very cool about seeing these talented people play in what surely must be the cathedral of beach volleyball of Copacabana Beach.  Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross won the whole thing, which was super exciting to see.  Remember I watched them play back in September before Kerri had her shoulder surgery.  She was all taped up, serving underhand, blocking at a bare minimum, and not spiking at all.  She had surgery right after that tournament, has done rehab for months, and came out in beast mode. No tape until the end of the tournament, overhand serves, incredible blocking and spiking.... She is so inspiring to me - in her late-30s, 3 kids, and still dominating.  Uh-mazing!

At the tournament, I met the parents and husband of another American player.  The dedication of these athletes is well-documented, but let me tell you a little story about the dedication of the families behind these athletes.  The US will not announce its beach volleyball qualifiers for the Olympics until June 13.  Until then these players are playing in every tournament they can get to.  If I understood correctly, in non-Olympic years, the players play tournaments more selectively because they get points for winning and lose points for losing.  In Olympic years, however, they don't lose points for losing so they play as many tournaments as they can because they have nothing to lose but they have everything to gain if they win.  In June, the top two female teams and top two male teams (top meaning whichever teams have the most points from these qualifying tournaments) will know they're going to the Olympics, which start in early August.

Now, the families of these teams certainly can't wait until June 13 to try and secure lodging, airline tickets and tickets to the events themselves.  So this particular athlete's family, without knowing whether their daughter/wife/sister will even make the Olympics, has had to spend money as if she will make the team (and she does stand a good chance of doing so).  And when I say they've spent money, I'm not talking about a couple thousand dollars here and there.  They have rented an apartment for the entire Olympic period because they couldn't just rent for the time period during which beach volleyball will take place. That little apartment, which is neither fancy nor super convenient to where the beach volleyball will take place, set them back $27,000.  Then they had to buy beach volleyball tickets.  Now the problem with buying any tickets this far out is that you have no idea who's playing when or on what court.  So they just bought up as many beach volleyball tickets (plus Opening Ceremony tickets so they can see their daughter march in and watch me dance!).  It's all a gamble as to whether they even have tickets that will be at the right time or court to watch their daughter play.  Those tickets were a whopping $33,000.  So before airline tickets, before food and incidental expenses while in Rio for a couple weeks, before taking leave from work, they are out of pocket $60,000.  And they don't even know for sure if their daughter will be in the Olympics.  Talk about love and devotion and commitment to your nearly 30 year-old kid.

3.  I attended the "inspiring women" International Women's Day reception at the UK Consulate.  Here's me with two other "inspiring women":
Excuse the weird smile. I'd just been gobbling down this delicious cake covered with fresh fruit and was convinced I had seeds stuck in my teeth.  Happy to report I could have smiled normally. 
4. I have recently returned from a week in Maui with my mom to celebrate her upcoming 70th birthday.  I had never been to Maui before so it was wonderful to explore a new island.  Maui is much more developed than my ideal, but Hawaii never disappoints.  We had great weather (cool and a little rainy the first two days but then it was gorgeous), and we were able to enjoy a trip to Hana, a fantastic luau, whale watching, fabulous beaches, and great food.  PLUS they have a Target and outlet shops on Maui so I got to shop for some "necessities".  It was fabulous week.
Our sweet ride for the week.  Why?  Because #yolo and #gigiturns70 only once

a little hibiscus aloha love from me to you
On the road to Hana



On the road to Hana

On the road to Hana















Hula Girls
Some other Hula Girls

On the road back from Hana
 
A few hours spent at Ka'anapali Beach are a few hours well spent
Our daily afternoon rainbow out the back side of the condo
The seawall view in front of our group of condos 
a beach in the Wailea area (I think)



Mom and me overlooking Honolua Bay

Sunset direct from our condo's lanai
5.  While in Maui, I got official notification that I'm a dancer in the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics. Actually they call us Cast Members, like we work at Disney World.  Our first practice is in late May.  I've taken an oath of secrecy so I won't be able to share any details with you, but before the Ceremony, I'll let you know in which quadrant of your tv you can look for me.  I hope you have a really big-screen tv.

6.  I've started a new workout routine.  And it very likely could kill me.  Have you heard of this Instagram sensation young woman, Kayla Itsines?  She has something like 27 quadrillion followers because she posts all these "before and after" photos of people who have incredible bodies in bikinis after doing her workout.  So I have paid $54.99 (I think) for a month of the workout.  I am on day 4.  Did I mention that it could kill me?  I did legs on Sunday and still can barely walk on Wednesday.  It takes me minutes to descend our stairs.  Arms were Monday, and that workout made my abs hurt.  Cardio was yesterday and I only got to abs today, which means that if my abs were hurting from the arms workout, imagine how they're going to feel after the real abs workout.  I am going to stick with this for a month and see what my before and after photos look like.  Assuming, of course, the routine doesn't kill me first.

That is all my news at the moment.  If you don't hear from me within a month less 4 days, send someone to look for me.  I'll be on the back patio, encrusted in the salt left by my sweat, curled up in the fetal position on my yoga mat, likely with my tongue hanging out.  Cheers!

  






Saturday, March 5, 2016

P.P.S. Marshmallows

I don't want to brag, but I believe I made a superior marshmallow. I don't even like marshmallows, but I can't stop eating my homemade marshmallows. I'm not sure how I'll ever go back to the jet-puffed kind. 

Using my superior product, we made the most delicious s'mores in the history of s'moredom. Our BBQ coals were nearly nonexistent, but there was enough heat to warm the marshmallows even though they never got truly toasted. All of us, except the vegetarian, enjoyed the yummy goodness of the gelatin-based marshmallows. 

(Roasting on skewers because I couldn't find my fancy extendable marshmallow roaster.)

(Mac on about his 5th s'more)

(The Leaning Tower of S'moredom - even though the marshmallow doesn't appear toasted, it was hot enough to melt the chocolate and destabilize the entire construction)

P.S. Marshmallows

One of the sleepover friends is vegetarian (which I knew and have planned meals around).

I have been informed that unless the marshmallows were made with pectin and not gelatin, he is unable to eat the marshmallows. 

More for me. 

Marshmallows

I'm not sure if they're right and they're definitely not cut uniformly, but they taste like really fresh, sweet marshmallows.  They're pretty good if I do say so myself. 

Mac has three friends sleeping over tonight so we will test out the roasting ability of these homemade marshmallows  after our BBQ tonight when we make s'mores for dessert. 

Stay tuned. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Today

This morning I woke up refreshed at 5:40am, a full 20 minutes before Jimmy's alarm went off and a whopping 35 minutes before I actually had to get out of bed myself. 

Today was very productive. 

* I put in more than my 5 required hours of paid work.  

* I walked down the mountain (instead of taking the bus) to the grocery store and the fruit and veggie store. (I did take the bus back, but can you blame me?  It's all uphill.) 

*I got a lovely invitation to a happy hour next week to celebrate International Women's Day. Each person who attends must bring a woman who inspires her. My friend invited me because "you are an incredible consort/consulesa for the US Consulate. You have your own profession that you are fulfilling remotely from Rio, represent the US government at a vast number of events with so much enthusiasm, ease and humour, and on top of all that you are a wonderful Mum!" That little gift right there makes me want to try to be a better person. 

* Appropos of nothing, I made homemade marshmallows. It's about 90 degrees in Rio so it's not like I'm drinking hot chocolate or making s'mores at the firepit on a cold winter's night. There's no holiday coming up that requires sweet potatoes with a marshmallow topping. I don't even really like marshmallows. It just seemed a challenge to make them because who really makes homemade marshmallows? Except the Barefoot Contessa, that lady from Smitten Kitchen, the chef at my beloved Liberty Tavern in Arlington for their Thanksgiving sweet potatoes, and my sister-in-law Charlotte, who, after eating the sweet potatoes at Liberty Tavern on Thanksgiving a couple years ago, started making her own marshmallows. But other than that, who makes homemade marshmallows when you can buy the jet-puffed ones at the Harris Teeter. 

I rose to the challenge today. The marshmallows are in the drying phase, which takes hours. Truth be told, I think I may have made marshmallow fluff and not exactly a product that will firm up and dry out to be cut into a legitimate marshmallow. There was the little issue of the sugar syrup boiling over while I waited for the candy thermometer to register 240 degrees. Then as I moved the pot off the burner while the sticky mess (that never made it to 240 degrees) was oozing all over the stovetop, a minor fire broke out on the burner cover. No biggie - I was able to blow it out like a big birthday candle - but then I was distracted watching to see if it would catch again. I lost some liquid from the spillage that should've gone in the mixer to make the marshmallows. Whatevs. 

We'll see how it all comes out later. The finished product itself tasted excellent and it was super glossy and gorgeous. I'm just not 100% sure that the marshmallow "batter" was supposed to be super glossy.  Here's my pan of marshmallows, in the drying phase, and dusted with powdered sugar as instructed by the Barefoot Contessa:

If you have good recipes that call for marshmallow fluff, send them my way. I have a Pyrex pan full of fluff just waiting to be consumed. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

my dance audition

(Carnaval recap will continue soon...)

We often quote to Mac the expression "show me your friends and I'll show you your future" as a way to stress the importance of surrounding yourself with smart, like-minded people who share the same values and principles.

Well, let me show you my friends and I'll show you my future.

A couple weeks ago one of my expat friends sent an email around to a bunch of us generally middle-aged women to say that the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the Olympics and Paralympics were 75% short of volunteers and by volunteering to be a participant, we could see the ceremonies from inside of Maracana Stadium (since none of us has tickets to the ceremonies).  She went on to say that her friend, the Logistics Director for all the ceremonies, assured her that "provided you can move without falling over, then there is a spot for you".

Right.

A group of us registered and signed up for the same audition time:  Sunday afternoon at 2:30pm.  We figured there was safety in numbers, we could copy each other if we didn't understand the instruction in Portuguese (the terms and conditions said instruction would be given only in Portuguese), and we'd have a good laugh and a story to tell at the end of it all.  We also agreed that the Las Vegas tourism motto would be our motto:  what happens at the audition, stays at the audition.  

We met for a coffee ahead of time and caught cabs over to the audition place.  We all got in line where we were given race bibs to pin on our shirts.  Then we got called up one by one where they checked you in and measured every single part of your body.  I don't know what the costume will involve, but I've had my head, inseam, outseam, bust, waist, hips, and feet measured.  They left nothing to chance.

Here we all are, after check-in and before the audition itself
By now, everyone knew there was a large contingent of foreigners who spoke English, which was great because at each step of the process, someone came over and explained all the instructions in English to us.

We were then shepherded to an un-air-conditioned gym where the actual audition would take place.  Now my plan had been to stand in the back the whole time so I could watch the people in front of me.  Brazil is not often very organized, but naturally - with my luck and inability to remember any sequence of dance beyond the 16 beats of the Macarena - this was supremely well-organized.  That meant that there was no hiding in the back.  This was a legit dance audition. LEGIT.

They lined us all up by our numbers so I was about in the middle of the pack but surrounded by expats.  There were 10 people per row and maybe 8 or 9 rows in total.  It was a little intimidating because there were a lot of youthful dancer-looking people present.  Like with leopard skin pants and Timberland boots and leggings and ballerina skirts.  Did I mention I can't remember anything more complicated than the Macarena?

The head choreographer came out and talked some and then this very high-energy female choreographer got on stage and started teaching us the choreography.  It was good for awhile - I could keep it all straight - but she just kept adding and adding and adding.  There was dropping to your knees, jumping back up, flipping around, Madonna moves....  WAY more complicated than the Macarena.

If you've read the blog for awhile, you know I love The Amazing Race tv show.  A season or two ago, they had a dance challenge and several of the couples just could not get the routine down.  I remember thinking how stupid they were and wondering why they couldn't just memorize it and move on.  My apologies to those people.  I got it now.

It would have been one thing if I'd blundered through in the middle of the pack, but as I mentioned, this was a serious audition.  They kept moving each line forward so you had to perform right in front of the judges several times.  

A dance audition in front of real choreographers and judges, all while being compared to Brazilians.  Who come out of the womb with rhythm in their hips.  Really, it was sort of like my worst nightmare except that my real nightmares aren't that bad.

The thing is, though, that we were having so much fun together that I forgot to be really nervous.  I mean, I was nervous.  Hello, have you met my two left feet?  But I was with a fun bunch of women and it didn't really matter how bad I was.  The very worst that could happen is that they would all get invited to participate and I wouldn't.  Not the end of the world.

The choreographers and judges also seemed to be loving this big group of expats trying out so they were so encouraging.  Surely there have been other expats who auditioned but maybe they didn't come en masse?  Even the Brazilians who were auditioning were supportive and cheered us on.  It was a ton of fun.

We danced and we laughed and we giggled and we made fun of ourselves for 90 minutes.

You read that right.

Ninety minutes of hot, sweaty, middle-aged messes dancing around.  I was exhausted.

I'm including two photos that a friend's niece took.  And I'm attaching it because you can only see the expat women in the photos.   There is no way known I'm sending video.  You'll just have to take my word for it that I, um, rocked it.  Completely and totally.

4 beats from the end of the routine.  Please God, let this be over soon.
The end.  

At the end of the audition, we all got the good news that we'd been "selected" as participants.  And by all, I mean everybody in the entire audition, not just the expat women.  I am sure we were all "selected" for our bright, shining talents (or at least the potential for holding it together during the ceremony) and not because they really just needed warm bodies. Right?

So now we wait to hear the training schedule.  It's pretty intense and we'll all have to decide if we can commit.  I'm thinking I can satisfy a couple cravings (real and not real) by actually doing this:  1) I could be closer than ever to a Dancing With the Stars body after months of all that dance training (real); 2) I could end up with a very cool costume (not real); 3) I could learn to dance (real); and 4) I could have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perform in an Olympics opening ceremony (not real but super cool so I might claim it as real).

Stay tuned for more information.....

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Carnaval, Part 2, aka The Bloco That Went Bad

Blocos, or street parties, occur before, during and after Carnaval all over this city.  Depending on their location and popularity, they can be (relatively) small and tame, or they can attract tens of thousands of people and be wild and crazy drunk-fests.  We had been to two blocos prior to the start of Carnaval, and they fell under the former category.  The second one was definitely bigger than the first and definitely less tame, but still we never felt threatened in any way.

I am not exaggerating when I tell you that during the 5 days of Carnaval, we woke up and went to sleep hearing the hum of blocos all around us.  Although they start weeks ahead of Carnaval and don't end up the Sunday after Carnaval (a full 5 days after Fat Tuesday when Carnaval ends in the rest of the world), they are most intense during Carnaval itself, when you can hear the hum in the air if they are close by.

Cut to the bloco after the feijoada and Beija Flor, and it was an entirely different scene from our first two blocos.

We had been invited by Brazilian friends to their apartment for a bloco-viewing party, which, in their words, is the only way to experience this particular bloco in Ipanema.  I declined the invitation because the party started at 4pm, and I knew we'd be at the feijoada until 6.  They told me to come over late, that their apartment was near the Caesar Park and we'd still be able to see the bloco going on.

Their apartment is very close to the Caesar Park Hotel.  On a non-bloco day, it wouldn't take more than a few minutes of a peaceful, beachfront walk to get from one to the other.

Add tens of thousands of people, and the walk was neither fast nor pleasant.  
Photo from O Globo newspaper of the Banda de Ipanema bloco
We all quickly realized I had made a terrible mistake in insisting we go to this party.  The sidewalks weren't terribly busy when we started the walk, but they turned horrible in a flash. Once we were in the middle of this throng, it was impossible to decide whether it was better to push forward or turn back. No matter which way you looked, there were drunk masses of people as far as the eye could see.  

The Mathiasens held on to their girls, I had a death grip on Mac's shoulder (from which I woke up the next morning with a horrible pain in my shoulder and arm), and Jimmy brought up the rear.

We made slow progress.  I can't describe to you the heat, and the jostling, and the pushing, and the general feeling of panicky terror that simmered in my stomach.  

At some point, Jimmy realized his cell phone had been stolen from his pocket, but thankfully his wallet was still in the other pocket.  The rest of us were luckier and lost nothing.

At that point, we decided to abort the mission with the best course of action being to cut across the road and get to the beach.  I felt like if we could get down to the water, we could make our way from Ipanema back towards Leblon, where it would be calmer since the bloco didn't go that far.  Everybody was told the plan and we tried to stick as close together as we could.   

If you look at that photo above, we were as far on the left side as you can be (all the way up against the fences around the apartment buildings).  We pushed and pulled our way across all those people to get to the right side of the photo.  Thankfully, Brazilians love assisting old people and people with children.  Anika was in front of our makeshift conga line, holding Sofie, and people screamed at other people to get out of the way because children were coming through.  Miraculously, it worked and we got across the crowd and onto the sand.

Only to realize that we'd lost Jimmy.  Who no longer had a cell phone.

Mac was very upset about leaving Jimmy behind but after looking for him (imagine the hardest game of Find Waldo! that you've ever played), I convinced him that Jimmy still had his wallet (please God, let him still have his wallet) and could taxi home just as we were planning to do.  (Jimmy's driver was waiting for us some blocks away.  The plan had been to call the driver when we were leaving the party to see where he was parked, but now Jimmy had no way of communicating with him after his cell phone was stolen.)

The five of us trudged down the beach, settled down our nerves, recounted what a horrifying experience the whole thing had been, got in taxis and headed home.  Where we found Jimmy waiting for us.  

Lesson learned:  Never ever go to a bloco ever again.  Ever. 

Next up;  Super Bowl Sunday