Friday, May 29, 2009

driving a stick shift when you're an automatic kind of girl

I've been driving Jimmy's little car for the last 3 weeks since he left Sao Paulo. When he (as the diplomat) left the country, I (as just the diplomat's wife) lost the privilege of using the special consular blue license plates. So our minivan was turned over to its new owner and Mac and I inherited the VW Gol, which is this awful little 2-door hatchback that has the bare basics. We're talking really just 4 wheels and a steering wheel in a metal box with no AC, no radio and worst of all: it's a manual transmission.

I didn't learn to drive a manual transmission until I was 30 years old in Mozambique. We bought this enormous Land Rover and Jimmy loved driving it so much. And I loved being chauffered about. I never had to make an excuse about why it was better for him to drive; I honestly didn't know how.

And then Jimmy broke his foot in a silly basketball game and suddenly, our trips to the grocery store were no more (the grocery store being in South Africa, meaning a whole 'nother country). So I had to learn; otherwise we would've starved due to lack of groceries. We loaded up one afternoon for the first lesson and there are probably still Mozambican children, now teenagers, laughing at the memory of this big red Land Rover bucking and jerking along side streets of Maputo being driven by this white woman who clearly didn't know anything. It was awful and humiliating and I clearly did not graduate driver's school on this one lesson.

Then Jimmy's dad very unexpectedly died and he returned to the US for the funeral. I remember very clearly my first attempt at driving the car by myself. I came out of the house and told our house guard to open the gate because I needed to go out. Kenny (as we called him because that was the closest to an English name that his African dialect name sounded like) blocked my path and wagged his finger no. I hate that finger-wagging thing. I told Kenny again that I needed to go out so to please open the gate. (I was going to a baby shower that I really could have walked to, but I thought this would be good short-range practice.) Kenny then proceeded to tell me that the patron was the only one who could drive the big car. I told Kenny to open the gate because the patrona was going out for a drive. What could he do but open the gate? I did get the car in reverse and backed out past the gate. The only mistake I made was turning the wheel too soon and driving over the curb instead of straight down the driveway, but this car was built for off-roading so going over the curb was no great shakes. My last memory as I drove off that day was of Kenny standing by the gate, shaking his head and I'm sure making a tsk-tsk noise.

Long story short, I learned how to drive just fine and became confident enough to drive to South Africa and around town. We sold the Land Rover and immediately went back to automatic transmission until we moved to Brasilia and Jimmy bought the little Gol. I drove it around some there and here in Sao Paulo (close to home), but after 8 years of intermittent manual transmission driving, I have maintained an unnatural fear of hills. I wish I could say of just steep hills, but we're talking any hill of any minor degree.

In the last 3 weeks, I've kept my radius limited to just a couple miles, namely as far as the consulate. Last week when I took Mac and his friends to the movies, we took a taxi primarily because it would be dark when we came home (and I hadn't driven that car in the dark too much), secondarily because I don't think that car is the safest and putting two non-related people at risk seemed burdensome, but, if I tell the truth, we also used a taxi because I was nervous about the ramps in the parking garage. What would I do if I got stuck in traffic on the ramp and couldn't get up the hill?

Let me just tell you, when you're used to going out and about in this city, limiting yourself to a 2-mile radius stinks. The other problem is that we gave away our GPS as part of the minivan sale and I had become quite dependent on our girl, so it was nerve-wracking to think about getting lost in this city. One wrong turn here can land you in some scary neighborhoods. But I started branching out more this week. Today I went to Jardins, which I said I'd never drive to in Jimmy's car. But I had the choice of trying to drive or take an expensive taxi, and my frugal tendencies won out.

So I mapped it all out on Google Maps, but our printer was packed up this week, so I had to handwrite out the directions and I couldn't print the street map out. The only part of the directions that made me nervous was that I had to go through a tunnel on Ave. Reboucas.

A basic principle: if you go down in a tunnel, you very likely must come back up eventually. So I prayed and prayed and prayed that the traffic wouldn't be stopped in this particular tunnel. I might as well have prayed that the sun rise in the west. The sun always rises in the east and the traffic is always stopped in this tunnel, and today was no exception on either account.

So then I prayed to please just let me get up the hill and out of the tunnel in one movement without having to stop. No dice. Now let me tell you that we're not talking Mt. Everest. In fact, I am the first to admit that I am literally making a mountain out of the proverbial molehill. In fact, when you're stopped on this "hill", you feel like you're on flat land. It's only because you've seen the incline from a distance that you even realize the road goes up.

Exacerbating my nerves was this white Mercedes delivery truck behind me. The driver chose to minimize the space between my rear and his front so I'm quite sure we were 2 inches apart. This was fine when we were flat and he obviously thought I was an expert driver. And he probably even thought it when we first stopped on the hill and restarted when traffic moved. I expertly shifted to first gear, had no backwards rolling and did great.

The second restart on the hill didn't go as well. I rolled backwards (didn't hit him, though) but got so nervous that I didn't very smoothly lift off the clutch and push the gas, so there was a little squealing and a little bucking of the car, but I didn't stall out. Thank God for that because I really would've just walked away from the car if that had happened. I would have called the new owner and said your car is waiting in the Reboucas tunnel. Listen for all the angry drivers honking and you'll find it.

Now I was really nervous about the guy behind me because I knew that my confidence was shaken and he stood a really good chance of getting hit by me. So I did the only thing I could think of to get him to back off a little. I turned on my hazard lights. So yes, I looked like a total driving moron but he stayed way back and I got out of the tunnel (2 more stops and starts before we got up that interminable hill). Of course, by then my hands and feet were so sweaty that I could have soaked through 3 washcloths, but I did it.

So I met my dear friend Gisele for lunch and told her that I'd meet her anywhere for lunch in the next 11 days that didn't require going through the Reboucas tunnel. I love her, but my nerves can't take it!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

in addition to the traffic - another highlight of my day

Emergency room visits and the resultant bills make me nervous. When I took Mac to the ER on Mother's Day, I told the billing guy that they really needed to bill me quickly as we were leaving the country soon for good. What I was secretly hoping is that the billing would take months/years and by then, nobody would know where we were. Because surely X-rays, doctor's fees, all this medicine that we took home with us, breathing treatments, etc is expensive, right?

Yesterday morning I got an email from the consulate that said the bill had arrived for Mac's visit. YIKES. I assured them I'd come by today to pick up the bill and pay it, unless I had to harvest a kidney first to cover the expense. (And yes, we can get reimbursed by Blue Cross Blue Shield, but that's in the future.)

I picked up the bill today and you will not believe how much it was for. Or I should say how little it was for. Just R$824, which is about $405. I think that is so dirt cheap for an ER visit. I'm sure BCBS will decide it's extraordinarily expensive but considering that a routine visit to the pediatrician here for a well-child checkup costs something like $150, I think $400 is totally worth it for all that great treatment we got at the ER. (Plus I don't like our pediatrician here at all so thankfully we only had to visit him once in nearly 2 years).

Whew! Breathing a sign of relief that I didn't have to sell that kidney after all.

(Another bit of unexpected service from the hospital - on the Thursday after we were there on Sunday, we got a big envelope in the mail from the hospital that included a CD of his X-rays. How cool is that? Mac loves looking at his bones!)

Sao Paulo traffic

I could write a list that would take me from now until next Friday of all the things I'll miss about Sao Paulo.

Traffic would not make the list.

Today I had lunch with friends in the neighborhood of Vila Nova Conceicao, a mere 8.9 kilometers from door to door. Guess how long it took me to drive those short 5.5 miles back home in the rain? A whopping 48 minutes (and I was actually counting on much longer because of the rain). You do the math, but that's some slow-going.

Because I was sitting still for so long in traffic, I got a cool photo of this motorcycle that was having a serious car wash. I kept waiting for the motorcycle to be tipped over by the force of the water, which was just gushing down the street (you can tell how fast it was going by the blurriness on the bottom left side of the photo).

The Story Tales turns 1!

One year ago today, I posted our first blog report about our trip to the Pantanal. Time sure does fly. What fun we've had!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

the packout and the letter project

"They work hard for the money
so hard for it honey
They work hard for the money
so you better treat them right"

(The Fink moving team during their lunch break siesta on the balcony)

I'm sitting here in a near-empty apartment. The walls echo but I am sooooo glad everything is gone and I can scratch "the packout" off my "To Worry About" list.

Mac had a total meltdown when he got home and saw that his playroom was now just a vacant space. We are talking Grade A, lay on the floor and cry sort of meltdown. I felt so bad for the poor little guy and started thinking that maybe I should have devoted one of our 4 suitcases just to toys. I told him I'd call the moving people back and they could unload his toys for him to enjoy these last 2 weeks but he'd never see them again OR we could be apart from the toys for these last 2 weeks (plus some months later unbeknownst to him) and have them to play with again in SC. He snapped out of his hissy fit pretty quickly and decided 2 weeks apart was okay. Crisis averted.

We also completed his Kindergarten Letter Project tonight. His friend Edgar chose the letter "O" for Mac while Mac was out with pneumonia. Mac and I had a serious altercation about the letter project. It could be a poster, book, mobile, etc and Mac chose to do a poster. All he wanted on his poster was a big "O" in the middle and some words around the big "O" that started with that letter. I thought that sounded awfully boring. After all, you have but a second or two to make a great impression and to show your display's pop and sparkle and all that. I suggested he draw pictures of the o words or cut pictures out of magazines. No dice. He wanted boring. So he started yesterday on our one sheet of loaned poster paper (did I mention we were packing out? The Kindergarten Letter Project came at a really bad time in my life!). The initial result didn't go so well. A photo follows. The orange words and scratched-out mistakes were the original attempt. The rest is where the magic marker bled through from the finished product.

After we dried the tears caused by making mistakes on our one piece of paper, I convinced Mac that in order to have familial peace and harmony, he really needed to write his o words on other pieces of paper and we (okay, I, but this is really the only part I did in the whole project) would cut them out and tape them on after he did his big "O" in the middle. You will notice some pretty fancy cutwork there. Since we just had the one piece of poster paper, we just flipped that paper over and used the back side. It's not the pretty side, but the rough, brown finish gives some texture and background color to his spectacular display of "O" words. I told him he needed to put his name on it, so where did he put it? Yes, right in the middle of the big "O". You'll notice he's going by James now and not Mac. He told me the other day he wanted to be called James, but that's a topic for another day. He gets his penmanship skills from his moma - pretty nice handwriting, don't you think?

the Susan diet

Remember when The Jared Diet was all the rage at Subway?

Well I've decided that I'd like to start The Susan Diet that would involve eating a reasonable portion of nachos at least once a day everyday. Would I lose weight by some mysterious quirk of my stomach quickly metabolizing all that yummy, gooeyness of melted cheese and chicken and tomatoes and guacamole and beans and those oh-so-delicious crunchy tortilla chips?

the noon report

These movers are definitely eating their Wheaties!

This morning they took out all the boxes that are going to State Department storage (weighed, inventoried and cross-checked against my inventory) and they finished packing all the SC stuff except for the playroom. It's a short countdown until everything material in our lives (except what fits in 4 suitcases and 2 carry-ons) is packed up and out of here.

I got a little nostalgic this morning watching it all being carted out, knowing that we won't see it for more than 14 months minimum. Not nostalgic for the "stuff" but for the memories behind the stuff, like who gave it to us or where we bought it on vacation. We don't have the greatest material possessions, but what we've got is packed with memories. It's tough to keep it out of sight when you like to be reminded of those memories.

Monday, May 25, 2009

the sticky note method prevails

I am a convert of the sticky note method. I will never do another move without a large pack of dual-colored sticky notes. This packout has been a breeze. A number of things helped, including the fact that Fink (the moving company) sent a lot more people than other companies have sent before and these movers stayed motivated all day long; I was super-organized and knew what was going where (remember I'd already had to make all those hard decisions to get the right sticky note on everything); and I decided that I couldn't let it bother me when the movers decided early on that I'm a neurotic American. Big whoop.

The packout was scheduled to take 3 full days, but I'm really thinking they can finish the packing in the morning, do their inventory in the afternoon (which by the way, I was so organized today that as they packed boxes, I was able to do my own box inventory in English with my own box numbers with different colors to denote storage and SC!) and get the boxes on the truck by lunchtime Wednesday at the very outside. Smooth sailing ahead, I tell you!

sticky note crisis averted

We inherited another worker after lunch and he obviously wasn't given the memo about only doing the pink stickies first. I just found him doing a box of green, so we had to nip that in the bud. We're all back on track now (although I hear discussion about the colors of stick notes going on right now. I don't think they like my enforcement.)

busy bees in Casa Grande

The packers have now been packing for 1 hour and 21 minutes and it's time to break for their one-hour lunch. But boy, are they making progress. I hope their momentum continues. Did we just get lucky and get good packers or is there something to this sticky note system???

quick update on packout

The movers are here. They came in for a walk-through and appeared to totally get the sticky note method! They are going to pack the air freight first and weigh it so we can maximize our 600 pounds (or is it 700 pounds? I need to check that). Then they're going to do all the pink stickies first followed by the green stickies. I think I got the bright bulbs in the box!!

a new approach to packouts

Today is the start of our packout of everything in the apartment. As I type, it's 9:13, and the moving company was supposed to be here at 9am, but said maybe 9:30 "with traffic", so I wait and I type.

It turns out I have been doing these moves all wrong over these last 11 years. I have not been properly organized, so this time, I've employed a tried-and-true (by others) method of using sticky notes to tell the movers where various things are going.

I thought using a system of green and red stickies would be smart. Green for "Go to South Carolina" and Red for "Stop and put it in storage in Maryland". But the store only had neon green and pink which are close enough to green and red, so I figured it would work. Our preacher here in Sao Paulo pointed out last night that I better hope and pray the movers aren't color-blind!

So there are approximately 800 sticky notes stuck on everything in this apartment. (And just to be safe, I wrote out South Carolina and Maryland on each note in case the movers forgot what green and pink mean). Time shall soon tell whether they get it or not.

In other exciting news, guess what I saw for the very first time yesterday on the grocery store shelves here in Sao Paulo? Tortilla chips! It figures since we only have 2 weeks left in the country, but boy, was I excited. To celebrate, Mac and I are having nachos for supper tonight. It really is all about the small things in life, right?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

things that make you go "hmmmm"

This afternoon at 4:30, I popped over to the grocery store that is located exactly one block from the side entrance of our complex. As I was walking down that one block, I noticed two policemen at the end of the block and thought that odd as we don't see a lot of criminals being apprehended in this stretch of the city. As I took a few more steps, I noticed one policeman rifling through the backpack of the "suspicious" man standing in front of him. (Why he was suspicious, I have no idea.) I took a few more steps and realized the second policeman had his gun drawn. It was at this point that I decided I should've taken the long way around, but turning midstream would've been kind of awkward as they had seen me and clearly it would have been an obvious avoidance tactic. So I hustled myself along and got well out of their way in case shots happened to be fired. I did not want to get caught in the crossfire for some bread, microwave popcorn and Ramen noodles. There are reasons to die, but Ramen noodles are not among those reasons.

still organizing...

...but I've decided slow and steady will win this race....

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

a musing from someone who's organizing for a move

There are days like today when I think I'd never like to move again.

People who never move don't have to do things like get a knife and dig out the little stopper on the bottom of a bunch of salt and pepper shakers to empty out the contents so when they unpack boxes on the other end, salt and pepper don't go flying everywhere. This sounds very nice to me right now.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

some photos from Porto de Galinhas

Beach view from hotel

Mac on his first solo kayak adventure

Mac with one of the Porto de Galinhas ("Port of Chickens") chickens

Mac and me on the jangada


Hanging out in the water

Do you wonder why I could drop off the face of the Earth and live on this beach forever???

Sunday, May 17, 2009

2 more observations from PdeG

1. Mac is a great traveling partner, maybe because we've been taking trips together since he was a little baby. One thing he has to work on is his ability to quickly check for food that's stuck in my teeth. After I eat with Jimmy, I ask for a quick check and all I have to do is quickly flash my teeth and he can point out which tooth on which side needs work. Mac, on the other hand, acts like it's a full-scale dental procedure. He gets up close and wants to inspect every tooth. I have to open my mouth wide and narrow and then, if I'm lucky, he'll tell me if there's something stuck. Tonight, however, we did the full-blown check only for me to get back to the hotel to find a HUGE piece of creamed spinach stuck in my front tooth. How did he miss that???

2. I think I'd like to work in a resort one day where the dress code is a Hawaiian print shirt and flipflops.

some observations from my hammock in Porto de Galinhas

1. Mac is 100% better. No coughing, no lethargy. He's acting like his normal, 6 year-old rambunctious self. During our prayers on night #1, he thanked God for His medicine: the fresh, salt air which was healing him.

2. Mac talks to anybody that will listen to him - in Portuguese or English (and he thinks Spanish, too) - which leads me to believe that he is well past my being entertaining to him. It's a little embarrassing because he will infiltrate any family or bother a romantic couple in the pool or in the ocean to start talking to them.

3. We ate a delicious meal at Bar Caxeira Restaurant last night. I had the most marvelous fish ever and we had to order Mac two children's plates of spaghetti, although one plate was pretty big itself.

4. We rented a beach buggy (dune buggy) and driver this morning for a 4-hour tour. The tour took us to different beaches, one of which is really a natural pool formed by reef where Mac got to kayak by himself. We also got to go on a flat-bottomed boat (called a jangada here) up a river where sea horses live! We got to see three sea horses in their natural environment (as well as in a big jar where they collected them so we could see them up close). The whole thing was very cool and Mac loved it.

5. There are not a lot of Americans at this resort and we've met 2 of the other 3 American guests here. We didn't meet the woman from New Jersey who's traveling by herself and has been here for a week but left today, but we did meet two guys who work for a GPS mapping company out of Denver. They're in the Recife area for 6 weeks to map the streets and highways of this area for GPS units like our beloved Garmin. Did you know that they have to physically drive the streets, making notes, all the while looking like major targets with bullseyes on the car because they are driving around in a car with a big GPS antenna on top, laptops in the front seat, a camera mounted on the dashboard, etc. Especially in parts of Recife, which is VERY dangerous, this screams "I am rich, please rob me at gunpoint." Very interesting talking to these guys. We always learn so much from people and their jobs and their lives just by asking questions and being interested.

6. Mac's favorite word du jour (or of the last few days) is "spectacular". As in, "this beach is spectacular" or "Mom, you should see the tile in the bathroom; it's spectacular".

7. Our jangada was named Pato Donald (Donald Duck) and we soon found out why. Our jangadeiro liked to talk like Donald Duck. Granted, he had skills, but how annoying is that???

Saturday, May 16, 2009

on a hammock in Porto de Galinhas

We arrived in PdeG yesterday and I confirmed that this is my favorite beach in all of Brazil. It was so spectacular yesterday. Mac and I threw on our swimsuits and headed straight to the beach where we played for a couple hours before heading to one of the hotel's pools (which was right on the beach, so it was almost like being on the beach without the sand).

We went to the village of PdeG last night for dinner and I could not get my bearings in the dark. But I think it's much more developed than 2.5 years ago. There seemed to be more streets and more shops - I couldn't figure out where we were. We ate at a beachfront Italian restaurant where the ambience was much nicer than the food.

This morning Mac and I were supposed to go on a 4-hour beach buggy ride that would take us way down the beach and allow us to enjoy the different beaches, including one where we can swim with seahorses. Very cool, right? Except that when we went down to breakfast, it was very dark and by the time we came back from breakfast, brushed our teeth, and put on sunscreen, it was pouring. I hate putting on sunscreen for nothing. We've postponed the buggy ride until tomorrow morning.

I'm typing this from the hammock on our balcony and it's lightening up now and the rain has stopped. The buggy man told me we had to pray for wind from the SE and not the NW. I keep looking at the palm fronds, but my directional abilities are challenged from the hammock. Any way you cut it, laying on a hammock listening to waves break is better than any day in a highrise Sao Paulo apartment, even in the rain!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

the best friends in the world

Today I invited some friends over for a coffee so I could celebrate my good fortune in meeting them during our time in Sao Paulo. I know some of you think this about yourselves, but it's true for me: I really and truly have the best and nicest friends in the world (and I'm talking about the ones here in Sao Paulo right now but the ones elsewhere are included also among the best and nicest!).

Living in Sao Paulo has been great on a number of different levels but one of the things that has been most rewarding for me is the people we've had the oppotunity to meet. At a lot of posts, you're stuck in the rut of just hanging out with other diplomat types and while that's good, being in a huge international city allows you, among other things, to meet people who live outside the consulate or embassy fish bowl and that is GREAT.

I've been so blessed by these incredible women that I've come to know through the diplomatic circle, church, the complex where we live, Mac's school, Mac's swim class, Bible study, etc. These women are PHENOMENAL for a variety of reasons, and my life is forever enriched from having known them here.

When everybody left and the dishes were cleaned and the housekeeper had taken Mac to the park for a few minutes and the apartment was quiet, I sat down on the floor to open the gifts that these dear people brought today. I read their cards and I wept for everything that I feel I'm losing by leaving here. I know good friendships stand the test of time and distance, but I am surely going to miss the close contact with these girls. Did I mention they are phenomenal women? They are beautiful and giving and compassionate, they are strong women of faith, they lead by example, they love their husbands and their children, and when they say call me if you need anything in these next few weeks, I know I can call and they will come. It has been my greatest pleasure here to be allowed into their circle. Now I just wish I could move the circle with me to South Carolina.

pneumonia has left the house

I was a sucker mom today and let Mac stay home from school even though he really was well enough to go back. His teacher assured me they were doing review work now and she sent some work home to do, so he's not missing that much. I mean, it's not like they master rocket science or learn Latin roots in the last 3 weeks of kindergarten, right?

Whether the improvement in Mac is from today's rest or just because it was past time to get better, I have no idea, but he is soooo much better. At our daily visit with Marita, she declared that he's 90% better than he was on Monday when she first saw him.

So we are off to Porto de Galinhas tomorrow morning and I cannot wait. I have packed enough medicine to keep him well should we get stranded there for any length of time, and I've packed enough Tylenol PM for me for the 3 nights we'll be gone. If for some reason we're stranded, I hope I know with some advance notice so I can ration my Tylenol PMs!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

day four of pneumonia

Perhaps you heard my singing this morning at 7:40am? Well, it was premature.

When Mac woke up this morning, he said his throat hurt, but I checked it with a flashlight and declared it fine enough for school and so off he went (with a note to his teacher to call me if he needed to come home). The morning was snapping right along - I'm having a coffee tomorrow at my house for about 35 women and needless to say, prep work has been minimal this week - until about 9:45 when my cell phone rang. I looked at the number, recognized it as a Chapel School number and hoped it was the PTA president calling to wish me a happy Wednesday. No such luck.

It was the lovely Mrs. Winkelmann calling to tell me that Mac was acting awfully pathetic and looked sick and it would probably be best if I came to pick him up. I willed some muffins to cook faster - sorry to the ladies coming tomorrow if they're not brown enough on top, but I think they're cooked on the inside - and drove off to get him.

As soon as he came out the classroom door, he seemed a little more cheerful. Was it just that he missed his moma? Highly unlikely. We walked down the ramp to the car and I saw him skip. Sick people do not skip.

We went back to Marita, the consulate nurse, who checked his throat (red but no sign of infection), listened to his complaints of a stomachache (he had very little breakfast because of the aforementioned sore throat), and checked his lungs (left lung continues to improve but now right lung sounds worse than before). Can we just all say "AAAAGGGGHHHH" in unison. When does this end?

I had a list of things to do today before the coffee tomorrow, so I had to drag Mac along to do them. First stop was the bagel shop where he promptly ate 4 mini muffins practically before I got the car cranked back up. Did someone say stomachache? I've chalked that one up to extreme hunger.

We finally got home and I left Mac to his own devices because there was baking and organizing to be done. He's played quietly all afternoon and is now at his friend Michael's house for awhile. Laura rescued me so I could grocery shop for the last few items.

Do I send him to school tomorrow? Do I keep him home to rest another day? I told him if he's too sick to go to school, he's too sick to come to my coffee and get my friends sick and that he'll have to stay in his bedroom. Do you suppose I have any chance of that happening? And of course, we're supposed to fly out first thing Friday morning. Marita still says we can definitely go but I will be a nervous wreck watching him breathe and listening for changes in his cough. I haven't even researched where the nearest good hospital is. So much to worry about. I really think new gray hairs are popping out on my head as I think through these things. This is precisely why I'm not meant to be a single mother. If Jimmy were here, he would tell me to relax, Mac's fine, his breathing is fine and the vacation will be great. Oh. I'm feeling better already just hearing him tell me that...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

day three of pneumonia

Listen for my rendition of The Hallelujah Chorus tomorrow morning at 7:40 my time: Mac returns to school!

We visited the consulate nurse this morning and she said he's improving sufficiently to return to school. This news did not come a moment too soon. Yesterday he truly acted sick and pathetic and lethargic, and you couldn't help but feel sorry for him. This afternoon, however, we had a full-blown hissy fit because I wouldn't allow him to ride his scooter at the park. Can you imagine the injustice? I tried to explain that we couldn't have a relapse this close to our trip this weekend, but he was convinced I was just trying to ruin his life forever. I compromised and told him I'd let him ride the scooter in our parking places in the parking garage (he'd be out of the elements that way and we didn't have a long uphill trek back from the park). He informed me there were signs that said you couldn't ride a bike in the garage and that we'd get in trouble. Who did he inherit this total respect for and fear of authority from? Oh yeah, me. We did go downstairs, and I didn't see the aforementioned sign, but he refused to ride the scooter.

He's in bed now - in his own bed after sleeping in mine for the last two nights so I could monitor his breathing - so life is returning to normal. Hallelujah!

Monday, May 11, 2009

day two of pneumonia

I am happy to report that Mac seems to be feeling better today. We went to the consulate this morning to see the nurse and while she said his chest is very, very noisy still, she said she has nothing to compare with since she didn't hear him yesterday. She told him to stay home from school again tomorrow (Lord, help us all!) and we're to go back to her in the morning for another check. Then she'll be able to decide whether he's improving.

I want Mac to get better for the obvious reason: I want him to get better! But in the back of my mind is this fabulous weekend I have planned for us in Porto de Galinhas. There's no way known I'm getting on a airplane if I don't have a 100% vote of confidence from the nurse. So not only do I want him to get better for being better's sake, I want a speedy recovery!! My mom always said salt air and water cure anything. Does that include pneumonia???

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day a near bust at Casa Story

Mac has had a cough for a couple days, but everybody in Sao Paulo has a cough right now so I haven't been overly worried. The weather's doing that schizophrenic thing where it changes from hot to cold to rainy to dry while you blink your eyes and everybody is suffering from sort sort of sniffles, cough or allergy.

So this morning when Mac woke up coughing at 5:30, I didn't intend to do anything more than give him another dose of cough medicine so we could go back to sleep for a little while longer. I let him get in the bed with me and that's when I heard the really shallow, quick breathing that freaked me out. I asked him to take a deep breath and he said he couldn't because it hurt too bad.

As we lay there trying to go back to sleep, I did the over-anxious mother routine of "do I take him to the ER or not? What if it's nothing and they make me feel like a dolt? What if I don't take him and it is something and then I really am a dolt?" I decided that being made to feel like a dolt is far worse than really being a dolt and I also thought we stood a better chance of getting seen faster really early in the morning than if we waited until the sun came up.

We got dressed and on the road at 6am and nearly set the land speed record to the hospital. I have figured out when traffic in Sao Paulo is light: Sunday morning at 6am is your best shot at having the roads nearly to yourself. I say we "nearly" set the land speed record because I missed the turnoff to the hospital because Mac's stomach chose that pivotal moment in time to void itself entirely of its contents.

We finally got to the hospital and were seen immediately. We never sat down to wait from the moment we entered until we saw the triage nurse until we saw the financial people until we saw the pediatric doctor on call. Brilliant.

The doctor said his chest was very noisy so she said Mac would have two inhalation treatments and a chest x-ray and she'd go from there. After all that, she said he had pneumonia. Now I know in my head that pneumonia is very common and very treatable but that's not what I really expected to hear because I was really prepared to be chastised for bringing him in when it was the common cold. Also, as some of you know, my dad was in the hospital with pneumonia when he died and while it probably wasn't the pneumonia itself that killed him, it definitely weakened his system to the point of death. So a pneumonia diagnosis strikes fear in my heart. And this was my sweet little lethargic baby that we were dealing with on Mother's Day no less.

We finally got out of the ER some 4 hours after entering and after two more vomiting episodes and with a stash of medicine to treat this thing. By then the steroid had kicked in and Mac was feeling better, so he thought we were going to continue our day's plans (which had been to have lunch with friends). But those plans were aborted (although I did stop for Starbucks on the way home, justifiable by going to pharmacy next door to get the antibiotic prescription filled).

We came home "to rest" per the doctor's orders, which extend through tomorrow. Mac's idea of "resting" is a little more active than mine. I thought we'd pile in the bed to watch movies but 10 minutes into the first movie, he was trying to turn somersaults in the bed. It's been a battle but I think he's winding down now. We're waiting for the pizza delivery guy to come and then it's bedtime for all.

In all the activity of the day, Mac never forgot it was Mother's Day. When he was getting dressed this morning in the dark, he suddenly sat up straight and wished me a happy Mother's Day. He also didn't want to go to the doctor (because he thought he'd have to get a shot), but I'm promised him no shots (thank you God for answering that prayer) and on the way home, Mac told me - unsolicited by me - that I was right about going to the doctor and he was wrong. Then we got home and he remembered that he had this packet of homemade stuff from school that he was supposed to give me today. So he made me leave the room and he wrote a note that said "I love you" and he handed the note to me with all these beautiful handicrafts. And finally, he's told me all day that I get to choose what we do because after all, it is Mother's Day. He apparently reserved the right to veto my suggestions which meant that we did nothing that I suggested (like rest, for instance) and did everything he suggested, like play bowling, watch Indiana Jones and Tom and Jerry, play Uno Spin, practice yoga, fold Mac up in the yoga mat and pretend to tape the package shut, etc. And to think we get to do this all over again tomorrow!

I hope that all you mothers out there had a spectacular day celebrating your motherhood. My day might not have been "spectacular", but I did get to celebrate my motherhood!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Mother's Day sentiments

In the car coming home tonight, Mac said the following:

"You know tomorrow's Mother's Day. And you know Daddy's gone. And you know I can't cook. That means you'll have to cook your own breakfast."

the long goodbye is over

Mac and I have just returned from taking Jimmy to the airport for his trip back to the US. He'll do various training courses from now through the end of June when we meet back up. Then we'll have the month of July together before he takes off for Afghanistan.

I have wondered how Mac was processing this idea of separation from Jimmy. We've been very upfront about how long Jimmy will be away and how often and where we'll see him throughout his Afghanistan tour, but I'm not sure whether the idea of duration is fixed in a 6 year-old's brain.

Mac was clingy to Jimmy at the airport, but he's also feeling under the weather so I was hoping the clinginess was more sickness than upset over Jimmy leaving. After we said goodbye to Jimmy and were walking back to the car, Mac said in a sad, little voice, "this isn't like before". I asked him what he meant and he said "this isn't like Daddy's work trips before. He's going away for a whole year this time." My heart broke for his little self. Now I have to find my "Super Mom" hat (probably the t-shirt too) to try and make this all good for him.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

impulsive behavior

As you know, we're sadly counting down the days until Jimmy leaves on Saturday for the US. We won't see him again until the end of June, so it's going to a good lesson in preparing for the long Afghani absences that will start August 1.

I'm blaming the brief swine flu I had on Monday or either my melancholy resulting from Jimmy's departure and our subsequent departure in June, but I did something very irrational and very impulsive yesterday. This is just not how I operate, so it might have been swine flu (aka just a sore throat)-induced.

CVC, the big Brazilian tour operator, was running a sale that ended last night. I decided Mac and I would feel better about being on our own if we had something to look forward to. So I took myself to the CVC shop at the mall yesterday and got us all squared away. I made the executive decision that we'd go back to my most favorite place in all of Brazil: Porto de Galinhas up in the northeast.

I stewed over this decision before going to the CVC store and again once I got there. Do you go back to the same place twice (Jimmy would answer no) or do you explore somewhere new, especially given that we're leaving the country so soon (Jimmy would answer yes). Of the deals being offered, the only new place I was really interested in seeing was Manaus. But I don't do wild animals well; that is much more Daddy Territory at our house. While I did toy with a "Conquer Your Fears Tour" concept, I decided it would not be a good end to our amazing Brazilian posting if we went home having been attacked by piranhas. So I ix-nayed Manaus and decided I could handle PdeG. I know the town, I know the beach, and we can totally relax there.

So I booked us for a trip next weekend. I'm pulling Mac out of school for 2 days which Jimmy has made me feel horribly guilty about (not because he objects but because I wouldn't let him pull Mac out of school for other trips which makes me feel guilty now that I think about it). But a single mom's got to do what a single mom's got to do. And I'm feeling a trip to PdeG will soothe the beast in me and make me handle these last few weeks better on my own.

I leave you with some photos from our first trip to PdeG 3 years ago. It really is a paradise so I think you'll understand my decision to return one last time!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Jimmy's article in Rolling Stone

At long last... here's the link for Jimmy's article (you'll have to cut and paste into your web browser because I can't figure out how to make the link work!):

Doesn't he look handsome? If you want to try your hand at reading Portuguese (if that's not your mother tongue, of course!), click on the link underneath the photo that says "Nacoes Unidas".

Monday, May 4, 2009

a trip to heaven

The other night Mac and I were cuddling before he fell asleep and I asked him where he would go on vacation if he could choose any place. His answer: heaven! I love this kid!

(After I limited the answer to earthly places, his answer was Australia.)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

some inspiration from Mother Teresa

A friend who adopted a sibling set in Ethiopia last year posted these quotes by Mother Teresa on her blog to accompany her prayer request specifically for two sibling sets who were orphanage friends with one of her daughters. These quotes were so moving to me, as someone who's trying to bring home a child, that I wanted to share them with you. Thanks Kristy!

"The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted."

"The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread."

"Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat . . . We must find each other."

"Let us not be satisfied with just giving money. Money is not enough, money can be got, but they need your hearts to love them. So, spread your love everywhere you go."

"How can there be too many children? That is like saying there are too many flowers."

"We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean, I think the ocean would be less because of that missing drop."

Friday, May 1, 2009

truth in advertising?

I gave myself a Clinique "15 Minute Turnaround Face Mask" today, but have seen no effects of a turnaround yet. Perhaps it's one of those things that requires multiple applications?

In good news, however, we got all our clothes weeded out today for the move. Jimmy leaves next Saturday and I was running out of time to get him to purge on his own and my purging would have been far more painful. We have made progress. Will the momentum continue?