Monday, September 29, 2008

Has anyone seen the OSHA representative?

Yes, this is what it looks like. They are building a huge new apartment building behind us. They add another floor about every week and there is no end in sight. And on Saturday morning when I was trying to unload the dishwasher, I could not stop watching this man working off the side of the building.

To put this in perspective, we live on the 25th floor and this view was nearly at my eye level. This guy is CRAZY. I sure hope he's got some good life insurance.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

An afternoon at the fashion show...

Okay, first of all, let me just clear up how the Storys, whose idea of haute couture is "new Gap" (as opposed to vintage Gap which is our everyday wear) got to go to a fashion show. Our friends Gisele and Flavio's daughter was a model for Fashion Weekend Kids (as was their niece) and they got us tickets for yesterday's events at one of the fancy malls in Sao Paulo. We were in the company of high society, let me tell you. (And yes, we did act like we knew how to hang with high society, so there were no social gaffes, at least none that we know of.)
Gisele, the mother of the model, and me, the hanger-on

Our first order of business was to watch the fashion show, which was set-up with a catwalk and lights and loud rock music and looked just like what you see on tv. Bia and Mirella were gorgeous in their outfits - so natural and beautiful and fun. There were other girls, however, who are either professional models or who have watched too much Project Runway. These pre-adolescent girls were strutting their stuff like nobody's business. Also included in the fashion show were a famous reporter for Globo television and a rock singer from a famous Brazilian band. Of course, we are clueless and didn't know who these people were. In fact, I thought the rock star must have had to go out onstage holding this young boy because the boy was his son and wouldn't walk otherwise. (You know, like a ringbearer in a wedding who hasn't understood the concept of "I'll buy you the biggest toy in the toystore if you will just walk down this aisle with the pillow".)
Some models who didn't make it into the show, but should have!

The second order of business was to enjoy the different booths that the sponsors had all set up. When you entered the fashion show, you got a bunch of arm bands that were labeled with the names of different sponsors, and you gave up one band for every booth you visited.

Mac's first booth was a cupcake-decorating station. Needless to say, the finished product didn't make it to the car and Jimmy and I didn't get so much as a crumb!
Betty Crocker in the making!

Our second booth was sponsored by a florist where Mac got to wrap up a potted plant in pretty paper and stick a pinwheel in the side of it (it is spring here now and so it was a very spring-oriented booth).

Before we got to the next booths, Mac played on the playground they'd brought into the tents and Jimmy ate a lot of little hamburgers. They had a row of food people set up - all free for us socialites! - with hot dogs, hamburgers, pizzas, soft drinks, cotton candy, etc. All kid-oriented since it was a kid fashion show and the place was filled with children (even though there was some 6'4" kids taking advantage).

Next we went to the Kopenhagen booth. Kopenhagen is a really excellent line of chocolate here and, for some reason, we had to twist Mac's arm to wait in the line here. I don't think he realized what he'd get to do and eventually take home. Once he saw the bar of chocolate that was the length of a Hershey bar and probably twice as thick, he was in. So he painted the bar with white chocolate and then stuck on various other pieces of chocolate and they wrapped that up in a nice box AND then also gave him a package of 12 little chocolate bars plus a tube of these other chocolate things. Needless to say, we were all happy campers.

The Chef of Chocolate

Creating the Masterpiece

Next we went off to the Crocs (the shoes) booth. There wasn't much going on in their booth - a little coloring and facepainting - and the line was really long, but Gisele said it was worth it because of the drawing they have. So we waited in the line and Mac got his turn to draw for a prize. The prizes were Crocs keychains, those pins you stick in Crocs (what are those called??), and a pair of Crocs themselves. Well, wouldn't you know that Mr. Mac inherited his father's lucky horseshoe and he won a pair of Crocs!!! He chose brown ones. Who chooses brown Crocs? But as they were a giveaway, I decided not to argue about better color choices. This is very un-"high society" thinking, but if I'd known he was going to win a pair of these plastic shoes in September, I definitely would've saved the money I spent on a pair of them in July while we were home.

After the Crocs win, Mac made a windsock, we skipped the Glamour Glitz (or some such name) because it was a girl thing, and we went home with Mac's windfall.

So now, my dahlings, I must rest like all the other socialites in the city are doing on this Sunday afternoon. Ta-ta!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Reason #14,376,421,725,999 why I know the God I serve is The God of Small Things

I successfully baked beautiful plump chocolate chip cookies for the first time in my life! This may seem like no big deal to you chocolate chip cookie bakers who are always successful, but for me, this was monumental and truly had to be divine intervention. In my 37+ years of life, I have tried A LOT of different recipes, I've bought every different kind of cookie sheet sold on the free market and still, I have always baked flat cookies that are so thin you can almost see through them. When we've lived overseas, I've blamed the failures on bad butter with too high a water content, and when we've lived in the US, I've blamed the failures on everything else but the butter.

Mac has been so dismayed by my inability to cook chocolate chip cookies that I almost didn't try the recipe in this month's Southern Living. But God bless this woman who works there who shared her recipe. On Monday afternoon, Mac and I made the most marvelous cookies you have ever seen or tasted. I have made a note of what cookie sheet I used, what brand of Brazilian butter I used, and the exact minutes and seconds I cooked each pan for. If this feat is to be repeated, I need all the help I can get!!

Monday, September 22, 2008

It's the little things that will make you crazy...

I was pretty excited because my new potato ricer finally came and I was going to learn how to make gnocchi. I went to Wal-Mart this morning to grocery shop and THEY HAVE NO POTATOES. I'm not saying they only had red potatoes and I needed Idaho. I'm saying they had NO potatoes for sale. How can this be? And why are they doing this to me?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mexican food, Brazil-style

I'm still in Brasilia. Tonight is my last night before returning to my boys tomorrow afternoon. I'm staying at a really lovely Melia Hotel (even though somebody stole a very expensive alarm clock from my room when I stayed here last December). I've tried other hotels in the city on return trips and this really is the nicest, so now I hide my much cheaper alarm clock in the suitcase every morning before I leave for work.

But I digress...

They have had posters up all over the hotel about this Mexican Festival that started tonight at their fancy restaurant and ends this weekend. They've flown in the chef from the Gran Melia Resort in Cancun, where we stayed 7 or 8 years ago with our friends, the Royster-Mateens, and then my mom and dad. So I was a little nostalgic and I love Mexican food, and you can't get really great Mexican food here.

The problem is that the restaurant is pretty swank and I didn't really want to eat there by myself. A mall restaurant by yourself is one thing, but a fancy hotel restaurant is a little loser-ish on your own for an interactive meal like a Mexican buffet.

So I did what any self-respecting person would do. I called room service. This is one of those hotels where you dial 1 for everything. My new best friend Paulo has worked a lot this week at the other end of "dial 1" -I've had room service and Paulo was there; I've called to get the access code for Internet in my room and Paulo was there. So I really hoped Paulo would be working tonight because I thought I might be able to convince him to order room service for me with a Mexican assortment. But alas, Paulo must have the night off.

I got this other really friendly guy who said he'd call the restaurant and find out if they could do it. He called back and said no problem but I'd still have to pay the full buffet price, which was expensive but fine because I knew I'd get good Mexican food and besides, I'm on per diem so why not splurge on one meal? He asked me what I wanted and I said surprise me with an assortment, but only chicken (no beef) and lots of guacamole.

When he relayed that message to the restaurant, that must not have satisfied them. The next thing I know, the phone is ringing and on the other end is a man telling me to hold for the chef of the fancy restaurant. This seemed a little extreme that the chef would need to call, but I'm a sucker for service so I held.

The chef got on the phone and said they weren't sure what I wanted. I repeated that I'd just like an assortment really - they could pick - but I'd prefer chicken and I love guacamole.

So then he told me I needed to speak to the Mexican chef from the Gran Melia in Cancun to confirm what I wanted. (Did I mention that Mexican food isn't really that common here?) I was feeling better with every passing moment about the exorbitant price I was paying for this meal just from the attention I was getting. He asked me to hold, so I held... and held... and held.... and held.

I could hear discussion going on in the background, so I really thought the Mexican chef was telling them to tell me that I couldn't have the buffet for room service. But no, that wasn't the problem at all. The Brazilian chef got back on the phone and said he was so sorry, but it appeared that the Mexican chef had gone to use the bathroom and they'd have to call me back. Okay, too much information. Apparently his mother never taught him the art of giving a more socially acceptable reason for not being able to come to the phone.

Just as I was getting ready to hang up and wait for the callback, he told me that he had good news, the chef had just reappeared. So I spoke to this very nice man and told him that we'd had a lovely stay at his hotel some years ago and I was very eager to eat his food but didn't want to come down by myself so could he just make me a plate. I felt like a loser when he said "for one" in Spanish, but yeah, it was for one.

A few minutes later, a knock on the door produced this tray that was laden with food. My new favorite chef totally hooked me up. I didn't have one silver domed plate, but two. And that didn't count the two kinds of soup and the seafood salad and the dessert plate. I didn't eat everything (although I was tempted), but he sent these delicious light fried tortilla rounds with the most marvelous guacamole (2nd best only to Jimmy's) and ropa vieja. The second plate was rice and fried plantains and chicken mole (that tasted just like it did in Mexico) and fish in a tomato sauce. The soups were chicken/veggie and seafood, the salad was a seafood mix, and the dessert was rice pudding and flan. Oh, and they brought me a margarita too.

So I'm now stuffed to the gills with Mexican food and hooked on the idea that we must go immediately to re-visit the blue water and white sand of Cancun. If I could just hear the waves out my window right now, I could almost think I'm there....

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sitting in a hotel room in Brasilia...

I'm in Brasilia for a week's consultancy for my old job. It's nice to be needed again and I'm very much enjoying being back on familiar turf. But I should be here to pick up our new baby - his due date is a mere 4 days away on September 20. I've had no contact with the adoptive mother since she first made contact with the birth mother. I assume the adoptive mother is here as she was to come around September 10 to wait for the baby to be born. I hope and pray he's born healthy and he provides this new family with what they've missed for 6 years.

We had our first home study visit with the psychologist last Friday morning to start our adoption approval. She was very nice but the whole thing is a little weird and I have what I hope is an irrational and unfounded fear that she'll think we're unfit parents. What if we answer a question wrong? Jimmy and I have to go for the next two appointments separately and what if she asks the same question of each of us and we answer differently? Are we automatically disqualified? I don't feel like it's a trap, but there's a lot riding on this and we need her to think we're worthy of having more children.

Mac had a school holiday on Friday so after we had our early morning home study visit, we took off for a weekend at the beach. Friday was spectacular, Saturday had some showers and clouds, and Sunday was downright cold, rainy, and miserable. But we had a wonderful time, relaxing, watching movies in our pousada, and playing in the sand when we could. It is still late winter here, and I have to remind myself that we wouldn't be sitting on the beach in our bathing suits in Charleston in March without very mixed results.

Life is very good to us in spite of these twists and turns.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Dream Day, Take Two

Jimmy just got home from work and instead of letting himself into the apartment with his keys, he rang the doorbell so Mac and I would answer the bell to see him standing nonchalantly with his fancy Major League Baseball cap on. He was beside himself with boyish excitement. They let him throw balls around the field (with the former Major Leaguers) and they had the good grace and manners to compliment him. I believe he thinks he might be ready for a change of career and that his big break in the Major Leagues is just around the corner. It's so nice to dream big...

A Dream Day in the Life of Jimmy

Okay, so after more than 10 years of this foreign service gig, Jimmy had his dream day on the job yesterday. Did you know there's such a thing as "Baseball Diplomacy"? Even if you didn't know that, you should've known that if there were such a thing, Jimmy Story would find about it.

Apparently there's a big baseball training facility here in Brazil, just outside of Sao Paulo, and yesterday, Jimmy got to go there. Cue the sunbeams radiating from the skies and some sort of angelic music.

So here's the whole scoop. This facility is state-of-the-art and houses some 50-60 Brazilian boys who are handpicked as the best and brightest of Brazil's future in baseball (I guess in the US, Japan and wherever else they play baseball). I'm sure I don't have all the details right, but the facility is supported by a private Japanese company and is intended to do nothing but develop these young players. The boys pay R$700 per month for all their needs and the rest is subsidized by this company. They play baseball for something like 6 hours a day and then they go to a private school at the facility. Their moms come in every so often to take turns cooking the meals for them.

So here's where the Baseball Diplomany comes in (and yes, I do smile every time I write that. Have you ever heard such a silly expression as "Baseball Diplomacy"?) A higher-up from the State Department along with a lot of Major League Baseball former players and coaches have come down to check out this facility and play with the boys and get them excited about Major League Baseball. And of course, Jimmy volunteered for this visit. He would've scratched and clawed to get the visit, I'm sure, but as he was giving out the assignments, he claimed this one as his own.

Jimmy said this facility is his "field of dreams": beautiful flat, level grassy fields (something like 5 fields, I think he said), good clay, and I'm willing to bet there were white bases and a few bats laying around as well. Plus he got to hang out with these baseball players from the US and today -- HOLD YOUR BREATH -- they're going to let him hit and catch some balls!!!!!! It was a strange sight to see him leave this morning with a suit and tie on, his briefcase in one hand, and his baseball glove in the other. But he's never been happier, so who am I to complain if I have to explain to the drycleaner tomorrow why we have to get the clay out of the knees of his suit pants? I just told him not to complain to me if he gets dinged by a fastball going 100 mph. I will have no sympathy.

Turns out there's a tournament at the facility next weekend that, not surprisingly, we're now going to attend. I will let you know if it really is the field of all dreams or just Jimmy's ...

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Mac's latest

Tonight after reading some books, I was getting Mac settled in bed. We were discussing Teddy, this little bear that he got from my best friend Caroline's mother-in-law when he was born. I told Mac that Teddy had been with him since he was about 2 weeks old. So then Mac asked how long he (Mac) had been with us and I told him nearly 6 years. He got really sad and said that when he turned 18, he was going to have to move away. I told him that he could stay with us as long as he wanted but that I was sure by the time he turned 18, he'd be ready to blow this joint, that he'd move off to go to college and get a job and get married. I asked what would happen when he got married. Would he and the girl move into our house? He said he wasn't sure if she'd be "Brazilian or American or Japanese or Chinese or something", but he was definitely going to live in a house (not an apartment where we currently live) "with a swimming pool, a big yard, and a treehouse". He's obviously got it almost all figured out.

Mac's Brazilian Playdate

Yesterday afternoon Mac had a playdate with a friend from school. Daniel's dad is American and his mom is Brazilian, so Daniel speaks English but Portuguese is definitely his mother tongue and his language of choice. (As a side note, his mother speaks less accented English than I do, so when he hears English at home, it's very, very good English).

Anyway, the whole point of this post is to tell you how awesome Mac's Portuguese is. I hear him speak it in clips now and then, but this was 2.5 hours of nearly constant Portuguese. He even knows the Portuguese name for Hide and Seek. I am constantly reminded what a cool, talented kid Jimmy and I have.

Mac with his cousins Hayley and Rachel at Folly Beach, SC (July 2008)

Monday, September 1, 2008

We've found a family!

My prayers have been answered as we have a family who wants to adopt the baby. The husband and wife both work in government jobs, and they've been waiting for a baby for 6 YEARS! They're thrilled to know that they'll be bringing home their baby boy in 3 weeks. Can you imagine waiting for 6 years and now, you're going to have a baby in your house in 3 weeks?!?!?

I spoke to the birth mother this morning to explain our inability to get approved by the Brazilian government and to tell her that I had another family for the baby. Wtih her permission, I gave the new adoptive mother her phone number. They've just spoken and the adoptive mother is over the moon. She will go to Brasilia on September 10 to wait for the arrival of the baby.

Praise the Lord that this baby will have a home.