Tuesday, March 31, 2009

putting those new exercise clothes to good use

Today I joined the ranks of people who have personal trainers. That sounds so decadent to me. But as of today, I have a trainer for one hour a week. Her name is Carla, and she's cute and funny and 27 years old and speaks English and looks like she exercises A LOT.

My appointed hour with her is from 7:45 to 8:45 on Tuesday mornings and I must admit I was looking pretty good in some of my new exercise gear today. Color-coordinated and all. I even shaved my legs for the occasion.

Carla had me walk on the treadmill for 10 minutes to get warmed up. She didn't set the treadmill at a fast speed, so I breezed through that. Then we went over to one of those weight machines for your legs. I NEVER use those machines because they really intimidate me. They have all these pins that move the seat up and down and forward and backward and more pins to change the weights. It's just too much for me to figure out. Well she put me on this thing that worked the fronts of my thighs. Piece of cake. She had to add more weight on twice because I was so strong. Clearly she must have been thinking I was going to be her star pupil.

Then she had me flip on my stomach on the same machine to work the backs of my thighs. O-U-C-H. She went down to the lowest weight on the machine and it hurt so much. I am such a weak loser. The good thing is I only had to do 3 sets of 15 reps each (with a break in between) so I knew the torture wouldn't last forever.

We then moved over to a bench where I was laying on my back and was going use free weights to work on triceps. She chose the weights she thought would be good, and so that I would learn the correct movement, she guided me through the first couple reps. Then she let go and the weights were much heavier than I expected and I almost bonked my head. Close call. I had totally lost star pupil status by now.

We then moved on to other fun things that will render my inner and outer thighs and calf muscles useless tomorrow. We did stomach crunches, which are really my least favorite exercise of all time. When I told her I hated crunches, she told me hate was a strong word and to start moving. And I'll be lucky if I can lift the milk out of the fridge in the morning because my arms will probably just hang by my sides.

And that was all before we moved on to stretching. My idea of stretching stems from my love of yoga classes. There's some nice music playing in the background, you concentrate on your breathing, and it's a really lovely, serene atmosphere. Carla's idea of stretching is to lift your legs in the air with one knee crossed over the other and she leans on them with all her body weight so that your hamstrings think they're 2 milliseconds away from absolutely popping. Or she pulls your arms so far straight back behind you that they're nearly touching. Can that possibly be good for the body?

Of course I know in theory that this is all good and when I have abs that are remotely recognizable as abs, this will all be worth it. Tomorrow, I'm not so sure how I'm going to feel about it!

And Carla, if you're reading this post, I really loved the class and being with you today and I am counting the minutes until next Tuesday!:)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Friday: the day that would not end

My days in Sao Paulo aren't generally stressful as I don't plan too much for any one day. You never know if traffic is going to cooperate, and I need to be home by 3:30 to get Mac off the bus.

So my planned schedule for Friday was the following:
7:45am - get Mac on the bus

10am - go to grocery store to pick up care package stuff for one of Jimmy's colleagues who was in the hospital

11am - arrive at hospital to visit Jimmy's colleague

11:30am - go to Starbucks because my favorite Starbucks in Sao Paulo is conveniently located near the hospital

1pm - go to Mac's school to help set up American booth for International Festival on Saturday

3pm - pick up Jimmy at consulate (Mac had a playdate arranged) so we could get to Brazilian Federal Police by 4pm to get our federal police record (YEAH!)

Sometimes planned and actual don't jive. Here's what happened:
7:45am - got Mac on the bus

10am - went to grocery store to pick up care package stuff for Jimmy's colleagues

11am - arrived at hospital and visited with colleague and his parents. Volunteered to go by consulate to take care of some stuff for colleague.

11:15am - called Jimmy from car to see if he was at consulate to drop off colleague's stuff. He said he was there and could I come by then? Starbucks off the schedule but thinking that I can swing by McDonald's after consulate for a Happy Meal.

11:25am - pulling into consulate, I received a phone call from a friend asking if I was still at the hospital. She'd just had a dizzy spell (after a car accident when she hit her head) and was understandably nervous. She said she was going to take a taxi to the hospital, but I told her I would come get her and take her back to the hospital. No Starbucks, no McDonald's. Now chewing a stick of gum for lunch.

11:30am - dropped off stuff from colleague for Jimmy. Had him meet me in the parking lot to save time in picking up friend.

11:50am - picked up friend to go back to hospital (which, in 1.5 years in Sao Paulo, I had never visited - now twice in one day!)

11:52am - dropped off International Festival decorations at school because I knew there was no way I'd be back by 1pm meeting time.

12:15pm - arrived at Emergency Room and learned how the intake process works (which hopefully we won't need in the next 2.5 months). Called other American booth mothers from school to tell them I'd be late but that my stuff was there.

1:15pm - received call from one of the school moms asking if anybody else was coming as she was the only person who'd shown up.

1:30pm - left ER (friend's husband joined her there by now), but had to wait - for second time that day - an inordinately long time for hospital valet to bring car around. Chewed another stick of gum for second course of lunch.

2:10pm - arrived at school, thinking I only had 30 minutes to work before leaving to get Jimmy.

2:30pm - received a voice mail from Jimmy (no reception inside school) that said we didn't have to leave consulate until 3:45pm (and not 3pm).

3:30pm - left school and realized I was almost out of gas after traversing the city a couple times today. Quick stop at gas station where I finally had a nice attendant who wanted to wash all the windows of the car, but sadly I didn't have time to sit there while he washed everything.

3:40pm - ran through drive-through of McDonald's for french fries and Coke Zero. Before circling the block, everything has been devoured. I even dug out the straggler fries and ate the ice in the coke. Should have gotten a supersized meal.

3:45pm - arrive at consulate and miss Jimmy while he comes back from mailroom and I'm using the bathroom. Go to his office, he wraps up stuff and we leave with a map in hand of how to get to this police superintendency which is way on the northern side of the city.

4pm - on the road

4:45pm - stuck in traffic

4:50pm - talk to our police contact who's going to meet us. He asks where we are, we tell him, he says we've gone too far, but we tell him the address we were given and it turns out we were supposed to meet him at a mall parking lot so he could get there a short-cut way. Shoot. I hate miscommunication. Police department closes at 5:30pm. Will we have time to get there and actually get the report?

5pm - get to police department but our contact is still en route after crossed signals. He gets somebody else to help us and we get started.

5:15pm - our contact shows up

5:30pm - we start getting nervous because the guy doing the check tells us it'll be 20 minutes and the garage where we've parked our car is only open until 6pm.

5:45pm - do we need to move the car? Fique tranquilo, we're told (stay calm). The reports should be ready any minute.

5:50pm - the man comes out with our reports, we thank everybody profusely, and we get back to the car before the garage closes. Our contact is so nice - he escorts us the short-cut way that we missed so we can avoid some of the bad traffic.

7:15pm - a mere 1 hour and 15 minutes later of horrible Friday afternoon, rush-hour traffic, we arrive back at our apartment complex to pick up Mac

7:45pm - arrive at our neighborhood churrascaria because we think we've earned a lot of meat and grilled cheese after this day.

The bad news: Friday's long day was followed by Saturday's long day at the festival and then dinner with friends. I need a weekend to recover from the weekend.

The good news: all's well that ends well. At the end of the day, the missing piece of our adoption paperwork puzzle (for at least this part of the puzzle) is done. We have the federal police report and now just need to make that quick trip to Rio to the consulate. More to come...

Monday, March 23, 2009

bedtime prayers

A couple days ago Mac asked me what the word "ancestor" meant. So I drew a little family tree to explain who his ancestors were.

Imagine my surprise when, during his bedtime prayer tonight, he asked God to bless his "ancestors and an-brothers."

I now realize that when I drew the quick family tree, I used all women, hence the an-sisters!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

polka dots

Thursday was my day to carpool to swim class. Mac and his friend were in the middle seat of the minivan chatting and I as their chauffer was eavesdropping which is what I'm sure all professional chauffers do anyway.

We passed a man who had an extraordinarily big nose and that led them to a discussion about different face types and shapes and looks. Mac told Christian that one difference in their faces is that he (Mac) has polka dots across his face. He was so proud of his polka dots. I have no idea where he learned to call freckles that, but this is yet another reason why I love that kid.


I am pleased to report that we have our Sao Paulo State police reports. We arrived promptly at 4pm, were escorted right to one of the two people we were to ask for, filled out our forms, got our fingerprints taken, and VOILA! Twenty minutes later we were the proud owners of two pieces of paper that said that my beloved and I had not committed any crimes in the great state of Sao Paulo.

After thanking this woman profusely, we then went to the cartorio, where we had to pay $R6 for these notary-type people to say they recognized the signatures of the delegate who signed the police report (which I guess attests to the fact that we didn't forge this document).

The use of the cartorio is a topic for another day, but Brazilian have to do everything by way of the cartorio. You want to buy or sell a house? You want to register the birth of a baby? You want to change the board members of the American Women's Club in Brasilia? You go to the cartorio.

Now we wait for the jeitinho to take effect for the federal police report and we are on our way to Rio.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

allow me to introduce you to my friend, the Brazilian jeitinho

I haven't updated in awhile on the adoption process, but it's moving along full throttle. We have engaged the services of an American adoption agency with offices in Charleston and Flat Rock, NC. I've participated in the introductory "webinar" on the international adoption process, the first check to the agency is in the mail, and our home study is done and has been preliminarily accepted by the adoption agency. So these are all positive steps in the right direction to the adoption of our Ethiopian-born child.

We now have to file Form I-600A, an application of intent to adopt an international orphan, with the Department of Homeland Security's Citizenship and Immigration Services Office. Because we live in Sao Paulo, we have to present ourselves, a pile of documents and the completed form to the US Consulate in Rio de Janeiro (where they handle such things for international adoptions by Americans living in Brazil). I'm up for a trip to Rio as much as the next person, but time is really ticking down for all of us, but particularly for Jimmy, so time is really of the essence. And of course, this is one of those cases where we both have to present ourselves. I can't just do it on my own.

So I have compiled our stack of documents - tax returns, birth certificates, marriage certificate, all our assets, W-2s, photos of current apartment, home study, fingerprints, doctor's notes, etc. You name it, I've got it.

The two things we're lacking are police reports from the Brazilian Federal Police and the Sao Paulo State Secretary of Public Security. Imagine calling the FBI out of the blue and telling them you need a police report from them. You'd be lucky if somebody even wrote down your name. Well imagine that on steroids and you find us in our current predicament with the Brazilian government.

Behold the power of the Brazilian jeitinho. If you're Brazilian and reading this, forgive me for talking about the jeitinho. The Brazilian jeitinho is really the only way to get anything done quickly and efficiently here and as best I can tell, it's really only available to people who are well-connected or who have money. We are not of the latter, but thankfully we have made some contacts during our 3.5 years in Brazil.

Imagine a straight road from point A to point B. That would be the most direct route, but it's impossible to get there because of roadblocks, holes in the road, etc. Imagine now going some crazy back way from A to B - you still get there and it looks way out of the way, but it's a whole lot easier and faster and less headache-inducing than waiting for the roadblocks to clear and for the potholes to be filled. You know the right person who tells you if you go 3 blocks to the right and cut around to the left and go up the hill and come back down by the big tree, you'll avoid all the roadblocks and get straight to point B. That's the jeitinho and it is a beautiful thing if you can take advantage of it.

For the record, I really did attempt to get the police records on my own. I called the Sao Paulo Public Security people first and the conversation went something like this:

Me: I need to get a police record for my husband and me to faciliate an international adoption. We are foreigners here on diplomatic passports so we have no foreigner registration number because diplomats don't get those. I tried to request the police records from your website but we don't have that number so we're not eligible for the internet police report which requires that number.

Lady: That'll be no problem. Just bring both your passports and we can take care of that for you.

Me (with a false sense of optimism): Well that is wonderful news!!! Thank you so much!!!! You are so nice and if I'd caught your name, I would have agreed to name our new child after you, assuming she's a girl, of course!!! When can I make our appointment?

Lady: Appointment (laughing)? Oh, we can't make an appointment. You and your husband (and yes, he has to come with you) just need to come and sit around all day, waiting to be attended to.

Me: We both have to come? And sit all day? Is there a better time of day or better day of week to come when we won't have to wait as long? When would you recommend we come? He's terribly busy and can't really afford to come and sit all day in your un-air-conditioned office.

Lady (laughing hard now): No, SUCKER. You have to come and sit like everybody else and wait and when we get to you, we get to you and you'll be lucky if we don't send you away with a request to come back with more documentation, after which you will come back and wait another full day. (Okay, I might have made up that part, but that's what I imagine she was thinking.)

So that clearly wasn't going to work. I can waste an entire day at the police department, but Jimmy is so busy that he practically has to schedule trips to the bathroom.

Enter the jeitinho.

My former place of employment does a lot of work with both the federal police and the Sao Paulo Secretary of Public Security. So I sent an email yesterday morning to my old office and within minutes, a former colleague called to tell me she'd contacted a guy she knows and he would be in touch to help facilitate the process.

My new best friend Lauro (names have been changed to protect the innocent!) called yesterday to tell me he'd made the right contact and that he'd call me today to confirm the process. I got nervous because he said he'd call around 1pm today to fill me in and the call never came. Never, ever doubt the power of the jeitinho. Lauro called during dinner tonight, apologizing profusely for the delay in calling. "Lauro", I wanted to say, "I am at your mercy. You may call me at 3am if you so desire."

Lauro informed me that Jimmy and I both need to go Friday afternoon at or after 4pm to this office in downtown Sao Paulo with our passports and the letter that says we need the police report. We are to ask for one of two people who are expecting us and they will take care of things from there. We may have to leave a kidney on the way out. I'm not sure. But as long as I get my police report, who needs 2 kidneys anyway?

The federal police report is still in the works. My old office has come up with nothing so far. I've been wracking my brain to figure out who to call and then tonight at dinner, Jimmy casually mentions the guy we hung out with at the Madonna concert, who we've seen at numerous social events and who happens to be some hotshot federal police dude. DUH. Jimmy's job is to call Henrique (name changed to protect the innocent) first thing tomorrow morning to see if he can get the ball rolling. I am more hopeful than ever that we can actually pull this thing off. Our plan is to go to Rio in the next 2 weeks for a quicky fly-in, fly-out trip. We'll fly out early, do our business at the consulate, jump back on the plane and get home before Mac gets out of school.

I don't know how I am going to survive without the jeitinho when we leave Brazil. Has a Moncks Corner jeitinho been invented since I've been away????

a happy day at Casa Story

Today I decided to go buy new exercise clothes. I'm going to the gym regularly again and I decided I needed to look the part better. Don't worry - I didn't lose my mind and go Brazilian in the exercise clothes department, i.e., way too much exposed flesh. But I was getting nervous about using those same shorts I trained for the marathon in 9 years ago. Every time I pulled them on, I could hear the dry rot in the elastic waist. I was nervous that the elastic one day was just going to disintegrate and the shorts were going to fall down while I was innocently plodding along on the treadmill.

So I went to the mall and probably over-bought, and then I decided to visit the Extra supercenter-type grocery store that I never go to because it's not very convenient to our apartment. I like this store for a number of reasons but mainly because they've started selling Cherokee brand clothes (like from American Target and I love that brand).

Today I had even more reason to love the Extra. The folks at Casa Story used to be HUGE fans of Stiksies. What, you might ask, are Stiksies? According to my mother, they're only the best pretzel sticks in the whole world. And they used to be a staple at our house until they vanished from all grocery store shelves over a year ago. (And yes, I do know almost to the day when they vanished. It was during my mom's visit last year and one day they were in every grocery store's snack aisle and the next, they weren't).

As you know, we've eliminated junk food from our pantry, so I have stopped visiting the junk food aisle at the grocery store over the last few weeks. Because I rarely go to this Extra, I cruised all the aisles just to check out availability and that's how I happened upon the Stiksies! It was almost as if sunbeams were coming through the Extra's metal roof just to shine around the Stiksies. They even say on the package "they're back!".

Wow, what a day. New gym clothes AND Stiksies (and a new Cherokee tank just because it was there and it was on sale and it kind of goes with one pair of running shorts I bought. Even though I didn't go Brazilian, I still have to match!).

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

a night at the theater

On Sunday night we accepted a very kind invitation to the Sala Sao Paulo, one of the preeminent concert theaters in Latin America, to hear a performance of Carmina Burana by the Lyric Chorus of the Municipal Theater here in Sao Paulo. Our friend Walter is a singer extraordinaire (and a great Mexican food chef and a phenomenal pianist to boot!) and he sings with the Lyric Chorus (I'm not totally sure I'm translating that right but it's a big professional choral group).

We have wanted to hear Walter sing since we found out his profession, and finally it worked out to go this weekend. We've repeatedly asked ourselves since Sunday, "Why did we just now do this when we're getting ready to leave?"

The theater is so beautiful and lovely and amazing. Great acoustics, great visuals and very soothing. And I don't even know how to describe the music. The concert opened with two pieces played by the Symphonic Band (think orchestra minus the strings) in homage to Brazilian composers. I wasn't familiar with these pieces but they were beautiful and interesting. After a brief intermission, the chorus performed Carmina Burana, which even if you don't think you know it, you do. The piece "Fortuna" is used in lots of movies and commercials. You'd know it if you heard it. Anyway, it was so lovely and well-done. We're still kicking ourselves 2 days later for just having done this for the first time here.

Walter - thanks for sharing this extraordinary part of your life with us. It was marvelous.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

"God's been busy"

Although Mac has been losing teeth for over a year now, he's been on a real tooth-losing whirlwind since October when my cousin Mitch helped him pull out a big front tooth. Much to my dismay, we've seen not one bit of the adult tooth poking through and it's been well over 4 months. All the others he's lost since then - the other front tooth and two bottoms - are all coming through so I was starting to get worried, but it's a long trip back to the our pediatric dentist in Charleston just for over-anxious parental reassurance.

Finally, this week, we can feel the little points coming through so I know the tooth is on the way.

I was so excited when we felt the tooth and told Mac how happy I was. He told me that "God had been busy with other stuff and hadn't had time to worry about the tooth up until now." I love this kid.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

artificial almond aromas

In what I hoped would convince Mac to eat eggs yesterday, I told him he could no longer eat Frosted Flakes on cereal day if he didn't try the egg. That threat didn't work, so yesterday I found myself at the grocery store looking through a handful of cereals to find something that appeared healthy to me but would look like punishment to Mac. The cereal part of a Brazilian grocery story is nothing like the cereal aisle in an American grocery store. There's granola, corn flakes, frosted flakes, bran flakes, and a few trendy-looking cereals (including one that promised to have me in a bikini if I followed the 14-day plan) and that's really it. Oh, except for the Honey Nut-O's.

Honey Nut-O's look like Honey Nut Cheerios. (As an aside, there were no regular Cheerios or those nice colorful, fruity ones like they sell in the US). Just the Honey Nut-O's.

I assumed that Honey Nut-O's had nuts in them (being a believer in truth in advertising and all) so I decided to read the ingredient list to see what kind of nut it contained as Mac has allergies to tree nuts. I read through the whole list, most of which I wouldn't have understood even if it had been in English, and found no nut products until I got to the last ingredient.

Honey Nut-O's contain the artificial aromas of honey and almonds. How weird is that and how do you add artificial aromas of something natural? I can understand artificial flavoring but smell??? I assumed there was little chance of anything nut-like in the aroma, so Mac ate it and loved it and not surprisingly, it didn't seem like punishment to him at all! I knew I should've chosen the plain old corn flakes...

Monday, March 9, 2009

Egg Day, v.3

Definition from Wikipedia:
Combat stress reaction, in the past commonly known as shell shock or battle fatigue, is a military term used to categorize a range of behaviours resulting from the stress of battle which decrease the combatant's fighting efficiency. The most common symptoms are fatigue, slower reaction times, indecision, disconnection from one's surroundings, and inability to prioritize. Combat stress reaction is generally short-term and should not be confused with acute stress disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other long-term disorders attributable to combat stress although any of these may commence as a combat stress reaction.

Addendum by Susan Story to Wikipedia definition:
Combat stress reaction may also be found in mothers after early morning battles with child over his failure to even consider eating eggs. The most common symptoms in this case are raised voices, extreme fatigue, indecision as to whether this fight is even worth it, and dramatic throwing away of eggs into trash can. Fortunately the symptoms are short-lived as child must get on bus to go to school. The only known lingering symptoms are a bad mood from starting the day in such an awful manner in the first place and the dread felt by mother in anticipating the next egg battle.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

a primer on St. Patrick

As you know, Mac attends a Catholic school here in Sao Paulo, so it wasn't surprising when he came home from school the other day saying that they watched a video on St. Patrick in anticipation of March 17. Not knowing anything about St. Patrick myself (and assuming he had nothing to do with leprechauns wearing green trying to find four-leaf clovers), I was interested to hear what Mac learned about this guy.

1. He was born in 1968.
2. He died in 1964 (he obviously did a lot in -4 years to get a holiday named after him).
3. He was a good guy.

I'm not sure how long the video lasted, but that's what Mac took away from it. All you ever wanted to know about the saint himself!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Big 11

Today is our 11th wedding anniversary and I wonder where the time has gone. Eleven years ago today this time I was an ummarried girl, looking forward to my Cinderella day of a beautiful bridal luncheon, getting my hair done, and putting on my moma's wedding dress to be married. Wow.

Little could I have known that 11 years later, we would have moved from South Carolina to DC to NYC to Guadalajara to DC to Maputo to Baltimore to Brasilia to Sao Paulo. Little did I know that my career, which I thought would die once we moved overseas after my FDIC career ended, would re-emerge as a new spring flower with USAID and then with my most recent work with narcotics stuff. Little could I have ever guessed that my best-laid plans of having a houseful of children would result in just one perfectly-formed, precious love called Mac. Little did I know that when looking at my wedding photos, one of my favorite photos then - one of my dad and me just before we walked down the aisle - would become one of my most cherished now for even more poignant reasons.

For a couple of kids from Moncks Corner, it's been a crazy, wild ride. But the ride has been so much fun. I can't wait to see what the next 11 bring!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Waging war at the breakfast table? A definite on Egg Day

As predicted, we had a battle this morning over egg day. I made scrambled eggs again that were diluted with so much milk that there was hardly any egg taste at all. I put a little bit on a bagel chip topped with grated cheese. How can you go wrong with that?

Mac would not even entertain the notion of trying it. We tried cajoling, we tried begging, we tried to inflict that southern "but you gave me your word that you would eat the eggs" talk. NADA. So Jimmy told him that on syrup food day, we would eat waffles and he would not. He didn't budge.

He said he wanted an apple and I said nope. So we're still very much in the running for Parents of the Year because today, I sent him to school with nothing in his belly. I told him that he would be starving by snack time and he looked at me with disdain and said that snack time was early in the morning and he would be fine until then.

While we were waiting for the elevator to come, I asked him if he wanted me to run in to pick up one little bite-size piece to try on the way down. He wavered. I could see it. I was this close to victory. And then he said he'd be late for the bus so no.

Now that I'm determined in this mission, I will not be deterred by his resistance. He is going to eat eggs at some point in the not-so-distant future.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Waging war at the dinner table? A thing of the past for the Storys

Those of you who know us as parents know that Mac has not inherited our parental legacy of eating whatever is put in front of him as long as it slows down long enough to be eaten. You really would think that we had fed him something as an infant or toddler that made him so distrustful of us and our attempts to feed him well. We have indulged this picky eating and it has very nearly driven me crazy. I am a good cook and when this child turns his nose up at my offerings and says he only like school food (WHAT?), it is very aggravating.

When we were in Salvador last week, we had breakfast at the hotel every morning, as is customary here in Brazil. Mac ate some awful chocolate puffy cereal every single morning followed by white bread rolls. I know. We're up for Parents of the Year with that breakfast. The thing with chocolate puffy cereal is that it has nothing nutritious in it to fill you up and stick to your ribs so approximately 24 minutes after leaving the hotel restaurant, the mantra began: "I'm hungry. I need a snack."

After day 2 of this, we were tired of hearing the whining. I mean, does his teacher have to listen to him times 18 every morning before snack time?

Jimmy told Mac that he needed to eat some protein so that got me thinking that we were going to have to force eggs on the kid. Mac ate eggs very briefly as a toddler or whenever it is that you can first introduce eggs. Jimmy has made it out as though eggs were his favorite food. I don't remember it quite that way, but I do remember that he ate eggs.

I decided that we were going to have to show some tough love. So on Monday morning, when Mac got up for school, I asked him what he wanted for breakfast. His normal response is peanut butter toast, cinnamon toast, cereal (Frosted Flakes - remember we are in the running for Parents of the Year), waffles or pancakes. Monday's answer was cinnamon toast. So I told him that he could have a slice of cinnamon toast if he ate eggs. He only had to eat one bite. I made wonderful scrambled eggs. Simple. Everybody eats scrambled eggs. Not Mac. He picked up the most miniscule piece of scrambled egg that you can make stick to a fork tine and every time he got it near his face, he started this gagging that actually produced a little vomit. Well that just really ticked me off. It's one little piece of egg. So then he tried to hold his nose and eat it - more gagging, more histrionics, more throwing up. By now, we were all in a foul mood. The windows were open so I'm sure the neighbors thought we were beating him because of all the yelling and crying.

By now it was time to catch the bus, so the cinnamon toast went in the trash, the egg went in the trash, and I cut up an apple quickly for him to eat. (I could not - even in my running for Parent of the Year - send him to school without anything to eat at all). He must have been hungry because the kid who isn't so hip on fruit ate nearly the entire apple before the bus got there.

I decided I needed to strike while the iron was hot, so I went to the grocery store to buy the ingredients for my first week of meals by SavingDinner.com. My friend Alisa uses this service and got me hooked on the concept. You pay a small fee and they email you a different menu each week. You can choose regular, low-fat, or low-carb. I still have a little South Beach wannabe in me, so I chose low-carb. Six meals are included in the menu so you can pick which you want depending on how many nights you'll be at home, whether you want to cook more of one meal and have leftovers, etc. In addition to the menu, you get this full grocery list that's broken out by category like dairy, produce, staples, meat, etc and then each item on the list has the meal number by it, so you can scratch that off the list if you're not cooking that particular meal. As you may know, I LOVE a good list, so this was right up my alley.

So for the first week, I chose 3 meals. I was quite confident that each meal would not be well-received, but I was going on tough-love adrenaline. Oh, another benefit of SavingDinner.com? Meal preparation and cooking time is something like 30 minutes tops as best I can tell. Revolutionary.

Night one was General Tsao's chicken, brown rice, and steamed broccoli. A nice, healthy, balanced meal. Jimmy had to work late so I prepared dinner, fixed Mac's plate so that nothing touched anything else to avoid cross-contamination of foods and placed it in front of him. The poor kid must have been scared to death to question the dinner because he said not one word about anything. I have probably served him broccoli 467 times and he's always said he only eats broccoli at school (which the teacher said is true), but Monday night, he told me he only liked the tree part and not the stem. Fine. You can't win every battle, right? He ate a few bites of the brown rice (which is a few bites more than the last time he was served brown rice), a few broccoli trees, and had 3 servings of General Tsao's chicken (which was minus the red pepper flakes to avoid hot spice for him). You could've knocked me over with a feather.

Mac has been on a serious ice cream kick lately and again, we overindulged. Tough love called for no dessert except on weekends. So after he ate, he asked for dessert. I explained that we were only having dessert on the weekend and that he could eat fruit if he wanted to. He chose to eat a banana.

Night two was southwest pork chops served with a corn and tomato salsa with black beans on the side. He didn't like the corn in the salsa and the black beans were too spicy for him, but he did eat the tomatoes in the salsa (SHOCKING!) and the pork chops. Dinner was followed by 3 little bananas after which he said his stomach hurt. No kidding. His bowels must be in knots from the influx of ruffage into his system.

Night three was a total bust by all accounts. It was beef covered in a very good mushroom sauce with mashed cauliflower (supposed to be mashed potato-esque) and roasted asparagus. I bought a terrible cut of beef that was really chewy, I didn't steam the cauliflower long enough so it wasn't anything like mashed potatoes in consistency, and there was no fresh asparagus so I bought frozen which should not be allowed to be sold in modern grocery stores. But we had a discussion that sometimes meals don't turn out as we'd hoped, we still need to be polite to the cook and thank them for their efforts, and then we can eat fruit afterwards.

Last night after the disastrous meal, he said he'd really like pizza, so I made delicious pizza tonight (rather than ordering in, which is what he really wanted). And I think we all enjoyed it!!

The really great thing is that meal times used to be time for battle, but it's just so much more pleasant now. Nobody sulks over the meal, we have nice, pleasant conversation, and my days as a short-order cook are over! Why didn't we do this years ago????

We've also cut out junk food for snacks after school. Today, for example, he had carrots, yogurt, bagel chips, and some little club social crackers. I can't tell you what a difference this is from just a week ago when a typical snack might have been yogurt if we were lucky but would have definitely involved doritos or potato chips or some other highly processed food that leaves grease stains on your clothes and fingers.

We're really trying to emphasize healthy eating versus eating to avoid fat. Mac is nothing but bone and muscle right now and I don't want him to have a fat complex. So instead we've talked about how a heart works in conjunction with arteries and that if we eat too much fat, the arteries get clogged and the blood can't get through and the heart has to work harder. No need to get into genetics right now which from my dad's side show that really no matter what you eat, you're going to have clogged arteries, which then begs the question of why can't we just eat doritos everyday. But we'll save that for another time.

We may have a battle royale in the morning because Friday is another egg day. While he was eating his apple at the bus stop on Monday, we struck a compromise. During the school week, we agreed to have two egg days, two cereal days, and one waffle/pancake day. The agreed-upon schedule is eggs on Monday, cereal on Tuesday, syrup food on Wednesday, cereal on Thursday and the detested eggs again on Friday. It's been a quick week and here we are again at egg day.

Mac got a little weepy at supper tonight when we discussed that it was egg day. I've offered to put cheese in the eggs, or to serve it with ketchup like my grandfather always ate his eggs, but nothing seems to interest him. He loves these bagel chips and I just got a batch from our bagel store today, so I think that's how I'm going to entice him. Maybe if I drop just a tiny bit of egg on a bite-size piece of bagel chip, he'll be suckered into eating it. Could I be so lucky? I have no idea, but stay tuned because I'll definitely keep you posted!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Story Tales makes 100!

This is my 100th post. That's it. That's all I wanted to tell you. Thanks for reading. More tomorrow....

Pollution, Paulista-Style

When we left Salvador on Sunday, we left the most remarkable blue skies - the kind that look fake because they're so brilliant and perfect. When we landed in Sao Paulo a little over two hours later, we were greeted by the double whammy of normal pollution exacerbated by extraordinarily high temperatures for days on end:No wonder Jimmy's got a sore throat and Mac is back on his allergy medicine!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Post-Carnaval Trip to Salvador

Last Wednesday, Jimmy, Mac and I headed up to Salvador in the state of Bahia in northeastern Brazil. Salvador hosts the second-largest Carnival celebration in Brazil so we timed our trip to coincide with Ash Wednesday so that the noise and commotion would have ended or at least died down.

Remnants of Carnival in Salvador's Pelourinho

Salvador is hot and humid and gritty, but it's also colorful and beautiful and loud with music and full of historical buildings. A fresh coat of paint on a lot of buildings would work wonders. Salvador was the port of entry for slaves brought to Brazil, so there's still very much an African influence. There were times that Jimmy and I looked at each other and said "this feels and looks and smells like Mozambique".

We spent Wednesday afternoon, all day Thursday and part of Sunday morning in the city, touring some of the historical buildings, shopping, eating and people watching. Unfortunately our hotel was not right in the historical center, named Pelourinho, so we probably didn't do as much as we should have, but we visited several churches and museums, including the cathedral, the Sao Francisco church, the slave church, the Senhor do Bom Fim Church, and the Afro-Brazilian Museum; we shopped in the Mercado Modelo; and we used the very cool cable car to descend to the Cidade Baixa and rode back up in the more modern elevator.

Cable Car Trip from Pelourinho down to Cidade Baixa - all for 2 US cents per person!

The gate leading into the Senhor do Bom Fim Church is covered with these ribbons that you can buy all over the city. People add ribbons to the gate as they pray and petition.

View of the Mercado Modelo (market) in Cidade Baixa (the lower city)

On Friday and Saturday we took day trips to Praia do Forte, which is tied for first place with Porto de Galinhas as my favorite beach in Brazil and possibly the world. Praia do Forte is about an hour's drive north of Salvador and it is simply spectacular. There are natural pools formed at low tide that are just full of all sorts of cool ocean-dwelling things like tropical fish, sea slugs, eels, octopus and other interesting sea creatures. You can rent snorkeling gear on the beach and these things are just an arm's length away. The beach itself is a spectacular coconut palm-lined stretch of white sand and crystal clear blue water. A little piece of Bahian heaven for the world to enjoy.

Beach Scene in Praia do Forte

Natural pools at low tide at Praia do Forte

Praia do Forte is home to the Tamar Project, which was started 25+ years ago to save marine turtles (TArtaruga MARinha in Portuguese, hence the name TaMar) in Brazil. The Brazilian coastline is home to five of the seven marine turtle species in the world, but for a long time, fishermen and villagers didn't care about the life of the turtle - they just wanted the eggs and would kill the turtle for the eggs. Now, in large part thanks to the Tamar folks, the fishermen and villagers are protecting the turtles, their nests and their eggs because they've been taught the turtles have more value alive than dead. Tamar works directly with the communities where it has facilities (now all along the Brazilian coast) to improve jobs, teach skills, provide income, foster education, and save turtles.

The Tamar facility is excellent and well worth a visit if you're in the area. Jimmy helped the folks there get turtle-tracking tags that are clipped to the turtles so they can monitor where the turtles go. They've found that some of "their" turtles have gone as far as Ghana and turtles tagged in Ghana have come to Brazil. By monitoring the turtles' progress via GPS, they know the turtles use the exact same "corridor" across the Atlantic, regardless of whether they're traveling east or west. Sort of like what happened in Finding Nemo when Nemo went across the turtle highway to get to Australia. Very cool.

Luciano showing off the newest Tamar "graduate" while the nest exploration continues

Because of Jimmy's involvement, we got the royal tour by Luciano. He showed us all the exhibits plus we got to visit the off-limits hospital plus Mac got to feed a turtle during the feeding time. Tamar also has a hatchery where they move endangered nests. On the day of our visit, two nests were being opened to pull out the baby turtles for release into the sea so we got to see these adorable turtles before their release. It was a completely marvelous way to spend a couple hours.

Mac feeding a turtle at the Tamar Project

Bahian coastline from airplane heading back to Sao Paulo