Sunday, February 7, 2016

More on the basketball players

On Thursday night at the baseball fundraiser, Jimmy gave the basketball players his phone number and told them to call him if they needed anything during their stay in Rio. The phone rang around 5pm Friday and it was Barry Larkin (Hall of Famer, Cincinnati Red legend) asking what they should do that night. (He and Steve Finley stayed through last night; LaTroy Hawkins flew home Friday night.) 

Jimmy and his protocol assistant scrambled and got them an invite to a VIP box at the Sambadrome for the first night of Carnaval. They had a ball and, by all accounts, thoroughly enjoyed themselves. 

Jimmy also told them
 that the consulate was playing beach volleyball on Saturday morning if they wanted to go. He said he'd check in with them that morning. 

He called them and they said they wanted to go so Jimmy went to the hotel to pick them up and get them settled at the beach so he could come back home to be with our houseguests who had just flown in. We had tickets to a feijoada/samba party in the afternoon and knew we couldn't do the beach.  

When Jimmy got to the hotel, they told him the hotel wouldn't let them have a late checkout (it's Carnaval and hotel rooms are at a premium). So Jimmy told him he'd bring their luggage to our house and the driver would bring them here after the beach where they could shower and get changed for their flight. 

I quickly straightened up our bedroom, cleaned our bathroom, put out some clean towels and we took off for the feijoada. 

When we got home, we found two notes from them. 

The first was left with baseball shirts in Jimmy's size:

The second was in Mac's room with two more shirts and R$150 (about $40), which is the change he talks about in the PS. 

These guys - these baseball legends - are such nice guys. Who would've thought they'd leave not one, but TWO, notes on their way out the door??

And hopefully since Barry Larkin himself told Mac he has great parents and should do right by us, Mac will finally believe it!

Friday, February 5, 2016

This life

Sometimes this foreign service life is nothing but putting your pants on, one leg at a time, every single day, no matter if you're living in DC or Timbuktu. 

And then sometimes, just sometimes, there are some really cool and amazing moments where you have to stop and enjoy the moment and realize this is only happening because you're living this crazy foreign service life in a place as cool and amazing as Rio. 

We've had a few of the latter moments over the last week, and they've reminded me how lucky and blessed we are. 

Last Thursday we were invited to the movie premier of Os Dez Mandamentos, otherwise known in English as The Ten Commandments"

Remember back in November when I got to go to the live set of the hit telenovela show?  Well they made it into a blockbuster feature film.  The premier was a red-carpet event with many of the stars (even Moses and Joshua left the Promised Land to come!). There was a cocktail party first followed by a showing of the film. It was a lot of fun and we met some interesting people, including some of the stars. 

Our official photo on the red carpet!

After the cocktail party, we all got popcorn and drinks for the movie.  

There's a blog post about the event, including photos of lots of famous people (and clearly less than famous people as we made the cut for inclusion). You can check it out here if you wish:

Saturday night was another fun evening at the Unidas de Tijuca samba school, which has already been documented. 

On Tuesday night we were invited to a Samba Supper complete with entertainment by some members of the famous Mangueira samba school. The hosts are Chilean wine producers who really threw a fun party with interesting guests, great food, fun music and, naturally, great wine.  

And last night we hosted a fundraiser to support a local organization which promotes baseball here in Rio. We had about a hundred people here, Jaqueline cooked an amazing menu, AND we got to meet 3 former Major League Baseball stars (Barry Larkin, LaTroy Hawkins and Steve Finley) and one active player, Paulo Orlando, a Brazilian playing for Kansas City who happens to be the only Brazilian to ever play on a winning World Series Championship team. These guys were so nice and stayed well past the hours they'd committed to the event. Naturally we took photos and Mac got a baseball signed. It was so, so much fun. 
Mac with former Cincinnati Reds superstar and Hall of Famer Barry Larkin 

Us and who I affectionately call our BBFFs (Baseball Best Friends Forever): Barry Larkin, LaTroy Hawkins, Mac, Steve Finley, and us 

Jimmy's single favorite part of a pretty stellar evening was hanging out with these guys on our balcony. They regaled him with personal stories about hanging out and playing baseball with the likes of Ken Griffey, Sr and Randy Johnson. Jimmy was like a kid in a candy store. 

We have a quiet night at home to regroup and get a good night's sleep before our friends arrive tomorrow morning and Carnaval activities begin in earnest for us. 

 It's going to get crazy around here. Pray that my stamina endures.

Bom Carnaval para voces!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

setting the table

When we were growing up, my mom was adamant that we would know how to set a proper table AND know how to eat at a place setting if there were multiple forks, knives and spoons around the plate.  (Hint:  use utensils from the outside in.)

When we set the table for any meal from an extended-family Christmas dinner to the supper table on a random weekday night, we knew that the utensils needed to be one inch from the bottom of the place mat, the knife blade needed to be turned in to face the plate, and the napkin was placed to the left of the fork and not under it.

My mother told us, as she told her Home Ec students, that even if the only fancy place setting we ever sat down to was at dinner before our prom, we would know how to use the right fork and appreciate it.

I am sure that my mother knew I would have more fancy dinner settings than just my prom, but I am positive she never imagined where life would take me.

Last night as I was setting the table for an official breakfast for oil and gas sector people at our residence this morning in Rio, I was overcome with gratitude towards my mother for teaching me something so basic (it's just everyday good manners) but yet so incredibly helpful for my adulthood.  I can't imagine the panic attack I would have before every event if I didn't have the confidence instilled by mom to do something as basic as setting the table correctly.  Not fancy, but correctly.

While we don't set the table this well for our everyday breakfast, our table is (nearly) always set properly for a sit-down meal at our house.  The knife will always be facing in and the napkin is always to the left of the fork. Some lessons can never be undone...


Sunday, January 31, 2016

the Carnaval season is upon us

If there's one thing Rio is best known for, it's probably Carnaval. And the Carnaval season has descended upon the city, almost as heavily as the thick, humid air that surrounds us here these days.

Having lived in two other Brazilian cities, we thought we understood a little of Carnaval: the country shuts down for a few days, people party really hard or use the few days as an excuse to go elsewhere, etc.

That's like saying the New Year's Eve celebration in Des Moines, Iowa is similar to the New Year's Celebration in Times Square.  (No offense if you're from Des Moines as I'm sure they have a fabulous NYE party, which is probably much more my speed than NYC's.  Let's just agree that most people don't travel from around the world to go to Des Moines on December 31, just as they don't travel from around the world to go to Carnaval in Brasilia.)

Carnaval officially starts Friday, February 5, and goes through Tuesday morning, February 9.  Unofficially, there have been neighborhood blocos (street parties) going on for the last couple weekends, and vendors are out in full force, selling costumes, hair ornaments, tshirts, etc.

We attended what was billed as a neighborhood bloco two weekends ago (in our neighborhood), but it was pretty lame with a small group of drummers, singers, and some dancers, and didn't give us a feel for what a bloco really was supposed to be.

Jimmy was insistent we needed to experience a real bloco so we chose an afternoon one to attend last Saturday in Ipanema.  I don't have any photos to show because I'd been warned a thousand times about shifty robbers working the bloco crowds so I left my phone at home.  The bloco was supposed to run from 4-8pm, but in typical Rio fashion, things didn't really get rolling until 5.  There were masses of people, many in costume and nearly all drunk or on the way there, and two large trucks, one that was purely for sound at the front of the parade and the second with singers and dancers that drove along surrounded by the masses of people who walked and danced in the street.

I can't really describe this experience to you except that it was unlike anything I'd ever been to and I don't know that I need to experience it again.  There were what must have been a thousand people in the street, drinking excessively, singing and dancing in the 100+-degree temperatures.  That was it.  We watched the two trucks and a lot of costumed people in between, around, in front of and behind the trucks go past our vantage point and then we fought our way back to the car.  It was VERY hot, VERY humid and I really didn't see the point of doing any of it.

On Sunday, the newspaper highlighted this particular bloco and said this year's theme of the bloco was "tolerance" (in support of a famous Brazilian singer who apparently was maligned for his actions and beliefs by intolerant people).  Whatever.  I didn't get the tolerance theme, but I might have been so hot that my brain was too fried to recognize the theme.

The blocos very much are neighborhood driven and generally feature samba schools that aren't good enough (or moneyed enough) to play in the big leagues at the Sambadrome during Carnaval itself.  There are two tiers of samba schools that get chosen to parade at the Sambadrome.  The bottom tier schools (which are still well above these neighborhood schools that parade in the blocos) parade in the "preliminary parades" on Friday and Saturday nights, and the more elite samba schools parade in the main parades at the Sambadrome on Sunday and Monday nights.  Those are the samba schools you see on television news clips with the ultra-amazing costumed (or barely clothed) dancers, drummers, floats, etc.

After the bloco experience, we came home to rest some before Jimmy and I went out to visit a samba school that will parade on the Sunday night of Carnaval.  The Unidos da Tijuca samba group, like all the other first-tier samba schools, host what are basically dance halls every weekend starting in November.  These events are usually open to the public and feature live samba music played by the group's drummers.  This was the final one before the official parade at the Sambadrome during Carnaval.  It was packed with people, dancing samba and singing the school's song over and over and over, many of whom will parade with Unidos da Tijuca next weekend.  Since we were guests of the school's president, we got to go down on the floor to see the presentation of the school's flag.  You have never seen such crazy, cool footwork by the male flag bearer!  (It's important to note that the flag bearers are VERY important on the night of the Sambadrome parade as their performance is worth a good bit of the whole score.)  Unfortunately, I didn't get any video of the flag bearers.  They were just moving too fast over too much of the dance floor for me to get them in action.

Some of the singers, up close and personal
The whole evening was great fun and an interesting cultural experience.  People are very loyal to their samba school, in much the same way they're loyal to their soccer team.  Many of these schools are in very poor areas and the schools provide a source of great pride and entertainment for the residents.  There were all ages out there from what looked like teenagers all the way up to older senior citizens.  It was great fun.

We are going to the Sambadrome on Monday night and Unidos da Tijuca is parading on Sunday night.  Since we won't see them perform officially, it was nice to see their flag bearers dance, meet their Queen of the Drums (famous Brazilian actress Juliana Alves) and soak up their very enthusiastic energy.  It was a completely original experience and I'm so grateful we were able to go.

But let me now tell you how unbelievably hot it was and how that triggered my self-diagnosed medical disorder of excessive sweating.

The building is large, and there are many fans and misters located throughout.  But add all those people dancing it up in already hot temperatures, and it was miserable.  I had tried to choose my outfit accordingly, given the heat and knowing that I don't glisten; I sweat.  Big-time.  I wore a loose linen dress because I figured even if it got sweaty wet, the linen would quickly dry out.


Water was dripping off of my body.  Literally.  I looked like I had just stepped out of the shower.  I could feel all the Lubriderm lotion I'd rubbed into my legs just melting off.  I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I could feel drips of sweat rolling down the backs of my legs. There is nothing more disconcerting than feeling sweat dripping down the back of your legs.  Trust me.  It was like my underwear were crying tears of hot, salty sweatiness.

Jimmy tells me that sweating is a sign of a  healthy body.  If that's true, I could be the poster child for any hospital's "healthy body" campaign.  If sweat glands on the backs of your thighs that actively release drops of liquid mean you're healthy, I win the prize.

This photo shows the pure-T heat in this building.  I am appearing fresh as a daisy only because I had just spent the last 30 minutes in front of a mister fan so I could cool down. I was called over to take this photo with the Swiss Ambassador (who had to buy a tshirt at the concession stand to change out of his sweaty shirt, the Queen herself (who actually has a little forehead glistening going on), and Jimmy who appears to have stepped from a shower that he took fully clothed.  This is what I looked like later in the evening when I had to leave the comfort of the mister fans.  
When we were down on the dance floor, watching the flag bearers dance an interminable song, I honestly thought I was melting.  I looked down at my dress and could see the sweat spreading as the turquoise fabric turned darker. Gross.  (For the record, everybody but the queen and some of her entourage were sweating so I was in good company.  Nobody else seemed fussed about it but I was grossed out by myself.)  As I was practically dying from the heat, I remembered that I'd heard you could get botox injections for excessive sweating.  I wondered a) how one gets diagnosed for excessive sweating; b) how many botox shots I'd have to get all over my body since I seemed to be sweating from every single pore on my body; and c) whether the botox-administering doctor would charge more to administer botox shots on the back of some middle-aged super-sweaty woman's thighs.

It should be noted that this excessive sweating was occurring at 1:30am in the morning.  It is unnatural to sweat that much in the middle of the night.  On the plus side, I weighed myself this morning when I woke up and I weighed less than I have in years.  Three cheers for Carnaval if only for water weight loss.
This was the "feels like" temperature OUTSIDE the building at 1:37am.  Inside the building, it must have been at least 115, and I am seriously not exaggerating.  

More to come as we enjoy more Carnaval festivities next weekend with friends visiting from Bogota.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

where has the time gone?

In the nearly 3 weeks since I last posted, I have written at least twelve posts in my head.  I tried to send them to you via ESP, but I don't think it worked.

Life has been really, really busy.  Like, seriously busy.  I thought I was busy before, but that was preschool busy.  This has been PhD busy.

Instead of writing all those 12 posts out, I'm going to hit the highlights of the last 3 weeks in random musings style.

1.  Work is going okay.  Those 5 hours a day are really cutting into the fun that can be had in Rio, but the work is interesting and it's nice to get a paycheck.

2.  I LOVE the chef.  I'm not going to lie to you: having a real chef in the home, whose name is not Mom, is the best thing ever.  It's like Christmas and your birthday all rolled into one, everyday.  I LOVE not having to think about preparing or shopping for food.  Since she started 3 weeks ago, she's had to cook for two high-level dinner parties, one dinner with friends, and one small reception.  She knocked it all out the park.  Plus she cooks for us every day and makes sure we have fruits and vegetables and I get lunch served to me when I'm home.  It is the bomb diggity.

3.  We went to Sao Paulo a few weeks to visit our friends and to see the UFC fight.  Remember the American, Pat Cummins, who we saw fight in Rio and then we ran into him the next day at a restaurant?  Well, he came to Sao Paulo to fight so we decided to go support him.  We had seats on the floor of the fight this time, so it was us and a bunch of famous people.  Which one of these is not like the other?  Unfortunately, we don't know a lot of Brazilian actors and movie stars, so most of it was lost on us, but I did spot the famous celebrity chef Alex Atala in the row ahead of us, which was super cool.

4.  Pat Cummins' agent gave Mac an unforgettable gift of a Team Cummins jacket that's worn by everyone on Pat's team.  It was a super-cool gesture and Mac was in heaven.  He wore the jacket home on the plane.

5.  I continue to take a private Pilates class one or two times a week, depending on my schedule.  It is the second best thing I've ever done for myself (after Lasik surgery which was life-changing).  I really cannot recommend Pilates enough.  I feel like my body is stronger, my posture is better, my back hurts less, and my muscles are more defined.  It's an expensive gift to myself, but I've decided it's worth it because I'm worth it.

6.  Remember a couple months ago when I won the free night at the Fasano Hotel at a charity event?  Well Jimmy and I took advantage of Mac being away on a school trip over the Veterans Day holiday, and we spent the Tuesday night before the holiday at the Fasano.  Oh boy, oh boy.  I don't know how I can go back to a Residence Inn ever again.  We had a beautiful suite, the service was impeccable, the rooftop pool and bar were divine, the massage at the spa was the best massage I've ever had in my life, and the hotel restaurant (Al Mare) deserves its reputation as one of the best in Rio.  The whole experience was amazing from the moment I stepped foot in the hotel until we checked out the next day.  I am a Fasano fan for life.

7.  Mac went to Tiradentes for 5 days for a school trip.  Despite the messages I sent to him on Whatsapp just to say "hi", he was uninterested in communicating with me during the week.  Which is a good sign, but still....  He had a great time and that's all that matters.

8. Our car has been delivered to our driveway, but we're still waiting for license plates.  So the sweet girl just sits there, looking pretty.  Best case scenario for plates is mid-December.  Worst case is early January or later.

9.  Mac turned 13 last Friday and we had a big blow-out birthday party.  The theme was a tiki party so we had all sorts of fun decorations with Hawaiian-esque food.  I even bought a snowcone machine because what tiki party is complete without Hawaiian shave ice?  The kids are so funny to watch at this age.  The girls danced in big groups, and the boys ran around and got sweaty and threw Coca-Cola at each other.  Mac declared it "the best birthday party of his whole life."

10.  We saw the new James Bond movie.  Admittedly I was tired and slept through an hour of it, but we all agreed it was not our favorite.

11.  Last Saturday night was the Marine Ball.  We had a great time, but the experience was definitely different with Jimmy's position now than previous balls where we could just hang out with our friends all night.

12.  I am off the hook for cooking Thanksgiving dinner as we must go to the American Society's Thanksgiving dinner, which means the wonderful chefs at the JW Marriott are cooking turkey instead of me.  We, instead, decided to host a Thanksgiving brunch on Thursday morning, which I'm pretty excited about.  The guest list is a bit eclectic and I cannot wait.  It's going to be great.  I'm cooking some and Jacqueline, the wonder chef, is cooking some.  I, however, am not cleaning up at all, which is the best part of the whole thing.

13.  A couple weeks ago I got to go on the live set and the indoor and outdoor sets of The Ten Commandments, the hottest soap opera in Brazil right now.  It was a super cool and fun experience.

I think that's about all the news that's fit to print.  I will try to do some photo posts in the next few days as a few pictures really are worth thousands of words.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The chef

Chef Jacqueline started yesterday (after a Monday holiday here).

She arrived punctually and after a quick tour of the kitchen, asked what I normally eat for lunch (she was unimpressed by my answer of "nothing or sometimes graham crackers" so then I pretended like I was just joking but she was equally unimpressed with my revised answer of "an apple and peanut butter". She then checked out the fridge to see what we had in stock (nothing), checked the pantry (said she'd re-organize it), and checked the freezer (asked why nothing was labeled). 

She really had her work cut out for her since we truly just about only had cookies, Ramen noodles and outdated yogurt in stock. Well, that and a lot of Halloween candy but I don't think she eats candy either. 

Lucky for her that I know what everything is in the freezer, even without labels, because I found some leftover frozen vegetable lasagna that I told her I could eat. There was also bolognese sauce in the freezer that she was going to pull out for dinner. 

I was summoned to lunch at 12:30 just as if I were one of the Granthams on Downton Abbey to a plate that looked like this:
She had doctored my sauce with who knows what and it was delicious!

This morning I met her at the grocery store so she could buy groceries for the house. Obviously she prefers less of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach to meal preparation than I have had here in Rio, which means we will eat out a lot less and will eat substantially more fruits and vegetables. She also likes a stockpiled freezer full of meat and fish. She bought who's know what in the meat department and is right now packaging everything into serving sizes for the freezer.  (Note to self: we'll have less waste, too.)

Lunch today was a fabulous green salad with Thai chicken. Fab.u.lous. I could've licked the plate. 

While I was eating lunch, she was preparing focaccia bread because Mac told her yesterday that he loved it. If it's good, he's going to be in heaven. (The kitchen already smells like heaven with that yeasty smell floating around.)

Today is Jimmy's birthday, but as he's in Brasilia until late tonight, we're not celebrating until tomorrow. She's cooking filet mignon with other surprises. More to come on the birthday meal. 

Having a chef is a real game changer. I don't have to devote one bit of energy to thinking about what to cook for dinner (or whether we have graham crackers in stock for lunch). 

And I'm not going to lie to you: it's pretty amazing and I think I can adapt well to this lifestyle. 

You may refer to me as Lady Grantham from now on...

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Halloween Party v.2015

Holy cow, what a party!  I wish you could have been here because it was a lot of fun.  A.LOT.  

I think the only person who didn't enjoy it was our neighbor, who started complaining at 10:15 and who called the police at 11:30.  Such a spoilsport. I am nearly 45 years old and am the most goody-two-shoes person in the world so having the police arrive was fairly traumatic for me, but everybody else laughed it off so I got back to the business of having fun. We'll have to deal with that neighborly situation later, but Friday night was about Halloween fun!

The party, in photos...


Part of the dance floor

cute little lanterns in the terrace trees, on the way to the food

the single BEST purchase I've ever made at Wal-Mart - super cool, huge, inflatable cat with scary eyes and a moving head (guests had to pass him to go downstairs to the party terrace)

(each winner took home a pair of Havaiana Halloween-themed flip flops)

Best Couple Costume:  The Bun Maker and The Bun in the Oven (she's 6 months pregnant)
Best Female Costume:  Cruella de Vil on the left side of the photo

Best Male Costume:  Obi-JUAN Kenobi on the right side of the photo


Reprising our Colombian roles as Don Julio and Cristina

Motorcycle Dude and Pulp Fiction Revisited

Dracula and his bride (this costume was INCREDIBLE!)

A Duck (who thankfully never fell down the stairs with the fins on)
Gilligan, Cristina, Snow White with her apple and a Geisha

A Pirate and his Wench

The whole gang from Gilligan's Island showed up.  How cute is that??

A Scarecrow and the very scary old peddlar woman from Snow White

Lots of Star Wars action

Snow White and an apparition

A Bird Watcher and his Bird (VERY CREATIVE!)

Super Heroes, Mary Ann from Gilligan's Island and Snow White

Frida Kahlo and an amazing Brazilian artist in real life

Seleem, the most awesome DJ ever

(I believe this is what pushed the neighbor over the edge, 
but it was so fun to see everybody's reaction and to dance samba.  Well worth the police visit!)
Here comes the drummers...

followed by the samba dancers....

what more does a party need than dancing girls?

Carnival is coming!

Amazing talent...

if you got it, shake it.

Geisha girl and samba dancer.... Halloween in a nutshell!