Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Measuring life by the small successes

Now that we're back in Brazil, we use bottled water for everything but brushing our teeth. We have a water delivery service that drops off 20-liter bottles of water as needed. 

For the record, 20 liters of water equals about 44 pounds. 

Also for the record, it is intimidating to me to have to lift and flip an open 44-pound jug of water FAST so that water doesn't gush out before you fit the top of the bottle (now open and upside down) into the water dispenser. 

I know from personal experience when we were last in Brazil that there is a lot that can go wrong in this process. Namely that you can end up with about 27 liters of water spilling out of the bottle when you accidentally drop it on the floor while trying to flip it. 

But desperate times call for desperate measures. The water ran out today and Mac wanted to drink water. I couldn't put him off all day until Jimmy got home tonight. So I cleaned the bottle, opened the top, dumped a little out just for cover, said a little prayer and flipped that 44-pound sucker. 

We now have about 19 liters to go before we rinse and repeat. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Santa Teresa

Today Jimmy, Mac and I visited the bairro of Santa Teresa. Santa Teresa is up a mountain with sweeping views (in some locations) and makes me think this is what Rio used to look like when there were still houses and not multistory apartment buildings everywhere. 

Santa Teresa is also the bohemian, artsy neighborhood of Rio with lots of trendy bars and restaurants, which brings me to the two reasons we went:  art and food. 

Pool noodles painted and carved at the tips to look like colored pencils!

A lady made with recycled goods (feet are laundry bottles, head and bottom are a big water bottle cut in half, etc.)

This weekend, Santa Teresa hosted the 25th edition of Arte de Portas Abertas (Art of Open Doors) where artists open up their ateliers and workshops to the public. We shopped a bit and I bought two of the cutest little wraparound skirts ever.
Soda bottle planters

"Don't believe everything you read."  

After we shopped, we ate at Bar do Mineiro where we enjoyed a traditional weekend feijoada, which is this delicious stew-like yummy dish of black beans, sausage, hamhock, and beef served with rice, sautéed collard greens, orange wedges and farofa (manioc flour cooked with butter, onions and bacon). 

After shopping and all that food, the only thing left to do on a Sunday afternoon was take a nice, long nap!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Sun Protection

I hate sunscreen. 

I hate applying it and re-applying it. I hate how expensive good sunscreen is. I hate how it feels once you get hot and sweaty and beach-sandy.

Last year I started using a Lands' End long-sleeved rash guard swim tee with UPF 50 protection. This tee totally eliminates the need to put sunscreen on your back, shoulders, chest and arms. And even though it's long-sleeved, it's no hotter really than wearing just a swimsuit.   The fabric is lightweight and breathes, all while protecting your skin. (And if you're vain, they have a great selection of fun colors and patterns.) 

Last week at the beach, I pulled the sleeves up a little for maybe 30 minutes. When I removed the shirt later, I was very surprised to see just how effective the tee's sun protection really is. 

(The top was covered, the bottom was not.)

Save your skin and cover up!!

Saturday, July 18, 2015




: luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for

On Tuesday morning, Mac, two of his cousins, and I walked down the street to one of the cousin's beach houses, in front of which we were going to play on the beach. 

On any other day, we would've walked down the beach to get there instead of walking down the street. The street is hot without the breeze that's been present everyday this week on the beach, and it's just nicer to be on the beach in general. 

But the boys wanted to walk down the street, so we did. 

We passed lots of morning runners and bikers and spoke or nodded to each as we passed. 

Somewhere along our walk, we passed a couple running, who by their later account, were out running later than normal. He had on a Washington Nationals shirt, which stood out to me, but I didn't pay too close attention as I was weighed down with chairs, a beach bag and a boogie board and was trying to keep three children from getting run over. 

I made eye contact with the couple long enough to say, "Good morning" and kept walking. 

The guy stopped after I'd passed, turned back, and asked, "Susan Story?"  

Turns out these runners weren't just anonymous Folly Beach vacationers. They were a couple we started the State Department with 17+ years ago!

Michael and Jen had come to Folly Beach with their three children for the week, on their first real trip ever to the Charleston area (besides just passing through). 

There were 4 couples that were my favorites from Jimmy's A-100 class. Last night I went to this couple's beach house to catch up and was reminded why these people were one of the four.  The last time we all got together was at our house in Baltimore. We haven't lived there in 11 years, which means entirely too much time has passed between visits. 

So thankful today for serendipitous moments that allowed me to reconnect most unexpectedly with dear people!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Family Beach Week

Mac and I are enjoying the week at Folly Beach for my family's "family beach week". Mac loves this week more than any other of the year because he gets to hang out with his first and second cousins whom he loves dearly. 

A few snapshots from an encounter with a smelly, dead horseshoe crab that they almost all had to touch:

And another series taken yesterday of some of the boy cousins, one of whom would not put the Cheezit bag down for anything:

Happy summer from Folly!

Camp Yoga

Last night my adorable and very talented pre-teen nieces invited the ladies in the family to a Yoga Party, which they later dubbed Camp Yoga. 

These girls found some yoga videos the day before and after practicing yoga for hours, decided we could all use a wellness retreat.

These girls don't do a wellness retreat halfway. They went all out (which required multiple trips to the store by their parents for supply purchases.)

I don't have photos of everything so you'll have to use your imagination. 

In the loft of their beach house, they had towels spread out for each of the 7 guests to practice yoga. They were streaming lovely, calming music from Pandora and they'd lit a battery-operated candle next to a fresh flower display they created. 

The seven guests, ranging in age from 4 to 69, practiced yoga according to the girls' instruction for about 30 minutes. Then we were served refreshing "detox water" that they'd infused with orange slices and ice cubes made with blueberries and strawberry chunks. They'd also set a lovely table of snacks so we all munched on cookies, pretzels, and cheese puffs. A final refreshment surprise were frozen Gatorade pops. 

At that point, some ladies went back to their house, but Mom and I stayed for facials downstairs. My sister-in-law kindly shared photos with me of this portion of the evening. 
In this photo, Hayley is administering the facial scrub while Blair eats a Gatorade pop to replenish his electrolytes. 

My mom enjoys a foot and shoulder massage before her facial. 

Such a lovely evening prepared and presented by these talented girls!!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Musings from the Miami Airport

As a general rule, I hate the Miami airport, and as a general rule, I think each airline and government agency represented at MIA chooses their surliest, most disgruntled employees and sends them to MIA to make passengers' lives utterly and completely miserable.

Imagine my surprise when everything worked like clockwork and employees actually smiled upon landing in MIA after the overnight from Rio!  Granted I didn't have to claim any checked bags, but I made it from the airplane all the way through Immigration and Customs in 20 minutes flat. Truly a modern-life example that miracles still happen.

I had plenty of time to grab some Starbucks, read, and use my earring back to open the SIM card slot on my iPhone to change out SIM cards so I could use my phone here in the U.S.  Yet another example of a modern miracle.

All this to say that I was very relaxed and unsuspecting when I approached the gate agent about my boarding zone, which was not indicated on the boarding pass I got in Rio.

Cue the disgruntled worker.

Apparently the people who work the overnight shift at MIA are a happy bunch and the sour patch kids come in for the day shift.

The agent informed me that if I didn't have a zone listed, I was Zone 4, which means you board last.

Now I'm very well aware of Zone 4 because I'm a normal resident of that zone. But because I used approximately 6,429,327 of Jimmy's high-status miles for this ticket, I've had Priority boarding (and those bigger seats with more legroom) for the whole trip.  A girl can become used to a certain priority status.

I tried to explain to this agent all this, but he was so rude and dismissive. He actually walked away while I was speaking to him.

They're now calling for people in Zone 4 to gate-check their carry-ons for free because the flight is packed. As they say in Bogota, "Que Pena"; I have one small bag and it's going with me because of that agent.

Rekindling my distaste for MIA...

Friday, July 10, 2015

nicest taxi driver in the world

I am flying back to South Carolina tonight to spend some time before bringing Mac and Leo to Rio.  I thought it would be a good idea to get a manicure and pedicure today so my fingers and toes would look good for the trip.  I knew I could pay by credit card at the salon but I completely forgot about taxi money to and from as well as tips for the salon attendants when I handed all my cash over to Jimmy last night before we grabbed a quick supper on the way home from the Venezuela National Day event.

Naturally, I remembered I needed cash after he'd paid the dinner bill.  I scrambled this morning, pulling paper and coin money from any source possible.  I knew I had enough for at least one taxi ride and tips, so I took the taxi to the salon and figured I could walk home if necessary.

Fingers and toes done, I plugged in my apartment address into Google Maps on my phone, studied the map in the salon and thought I had it all figured out so that I could put the phone up (avoiding potential robbery!) and walk home.  

Except when I exited the building, I got all confused.  I literally think I just kept walking in bigger and bigger circles.  I would have so lost The Amazing Race with that clueless performance.

I decided I needed to grab a cab and at least get as close as possible as I could to the apartment.  I knew if the taxi could get me out of the urban jungle so I could at least see the lake, I could find my way home by walking around the lake.

I ended up with the nicest taxi driver in the world.  I gave him my address, but explained I only had so much money and would tell him when to stop (while watching the meter) so I could get out.  He told me it was no problem - he'd take me even if I didn't have enough money.  What a gem.

We started talking and it turns out he worked for Chevron for 16 years and because of his love for this company and how he was treated there, he has a real love for Americans.  He spoke wonderful English and we chatted the cab ride away.  His wife called while I was in the cab and I heard him tell her that he couldn't speak right then because he had an American in the car and he needed to speak with me instead.  Adorable. 

And I had enough cash to pay and tip him, even if a lot of it was in coins!  I am winning today!

Thursday, July 9, 2015


Yesterday Jimmy and I went with some other consulate folks to visit the community center in the oldest favela in all of Brazil.  Providencia is a pacified favela which means that the Police Pacification Unit, the Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora (UPP),a law enforcement and social service program pioneered in the state of Rio de Janeiro, has reclaimed the territory formerly controlled by gangs of drug dealers. 
The UPP Commander for Providencia with one of the young residents
According to Wikipedia, "the term favela was coined in the late 1800s. At the time, 20,000 veteran soldiers were brought from the conflict against the settlers of Canudos, in the Eastern province of Bahia, to Rio de Janeiro and left with no place to live. When they served the army in Bahia, those soldiers had been familiar with Canudos's Favela Hill – a name referring to favela, a skin-irritating tree in the spurge family indigenous to Bahia.When they settled in the Providência hill in Rio de Janeiro, they nicknamed the place Favela hill from their common reference, thereby calling a slum a favela for the first time."

Back in February, a mural project completed by US artists and Providencia residents was unveiled. The bricolage mural was part of a project led by US NGO Green Star Movement (GSM) that was partially funded by a MacArthur grant.  The mural design celebrates life in the community honoring Ms. Dodô da Portela, a community leader and a symbol of a prominent samba school, who passed away in late January. The mural involved the local UPP staff, a group of U.S. Consulate staff, Chicago artists, and local youth from Agência Redes para a Juventude and the local project Providenciando a Favor da Vida, which assists pregnant teens. 

We met one of the two youth who engaged on the project and who will travel to Chicago in a couple weeks to collaborate with GSM on bricolage projects with youth, artists and residents in Chicago. This international exchange project aims to educate youth on global issues and empower them to ignite change, fortifying neighborhoods on the south side of Chicago and Rio’s favelas, through inclusive and supportive public art projects. 
left side of the mural (the bird and surrounding area is all mosaic)
The right side of the mural (painted and features Ms. Dodo da Portela)
Part of our consulate group with the UPP Commander, some community leaders and students in the English program
After seeing the mural, we walked up the hill to the community center, which is full of life and positive energy and activity.  They offer all sorts of classes for children and adults, there's a computer lab with internet, a library, a sports room, children's play areas, craft areas, and a multitude of classrooms.  While we were, we saw an English class (with multiple generations of students in attendance), a jewelry-making class, a judo class (where we met a world champion - in the photo below, it appears Jimmy is trying to steal his gold medal while distracting him with a handshake), and a music performance by a wonderful group of funny, energetic children. 

The adults running the show at the community center are committed to their community and want to raise up strong, educated, talented children who will be strong, educated, talented adults leading their community. They're teaching valuable lessons to children in after-school programs AND teaching adults skills and trades that can earn them money beyond the favela.  I have no doubt that life is sometimes, if not often, hard in this community, but I left with such a sense of positive energy, good vibes and happy people, all with an eye on the future. We all left feeling filled up.

As we wrapped up our tour and said our goodbyes, we met young Natalia.  Natalia did not understand my Portuguese and asked Jimmy to translate everything I said. She was full of spit and fire and exactly what you'd want in a 9 year-old child.  We exited the community center and Jimmy took off his jacket because it was warm.  Natalia immediately grabbed it and put it on.  She was so precious and energetic and full of the life that pumps through the favela.

Mark my words:  this girl is going places.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

exercise in Rio

One thing I know for sure about Cariocas (the people from Rio) is that they love to exercise.  They run and walk and bicycle and do Cross Fit and go to the gym and utilize these outdoor exercise stations that are everywhere. 

One thing I know for sure about myself is that I don't love to exercise.  I like to think of exercise as that person who you're required for whatever reason to see once or twice a year, but who grates on every last nerve so that while you're with them, you're counting down until you're done with this visit and once the visit is over, you're already dreading the next one even though it might not happen for another 6 months or a year.

After 12 days here, I felt compelled to join these people in some sort of forward motion.  And we have this humongous lake right out the front door with a great walking/biking/running path all the way around it.  I see people out exercising around it nonstop so today, now that the rain and dreariness finally went away and the sun came back out, I decided to go for a walk.

To be fair to me, I've been a teensy bit intimidated about going for a walk around the lake by myself because a cardiologist was stabbed around 7pm while riding his bike around the lake a few weeks before we got here.  The bike was stolen, and the doctor was left in the bushes and later died.  A 16 year-old has been arrested for the murder.  Jimmy has run the lake several times on weekend mornings and said he felt very comfortable - there was lots of people out the whole way around.  It's less crowded on a weekday morning but I could see people out and about this morning so I knew someone would always be close enough to witness if anything bad happened.  The only "valuables" I had on me were my $20 Timex watch and my nice sunglasses, but anybody can have either of those things just for the asking.  I didn't take my iPhone and missed at least a hundred photos that I wish I could share with you.  

The other thing about this lake is that it's the one you may have seen in the news recently.  It's going to be the sight of Olympic rowing and flatwater canoeing/kayaking.  Back in April, they pulled something like 40 tons of dead fish from the lake.  I don't know what they've done to keep the fish alive now (or maybe there are no other living fish in the lake left), but I didn't smell anything bad (and I have a most sensitive nose) nor did I see anything dead.  There are always people out rowing or stand-up paddleboarding or waterskiing out there, but everyone we talk to say the water is definitely not clean.

Despite being terrified of falling into the dirty water on the few places where the path was right next to the lake, the walk was wonderful.  First of all, I learned that the parking lot across the street from our building that you must cross to get to the walking path is used by driving schools.  So there's a lot of lurching and braking going on in there and you should give wide berth.   I saw tens of vendors of water, Gatorade and aguas de coco (fresh coconuts where they lop off the top, stick a straw in and you drink the coconut water).  I saw the Flamengo Club's rowing center and the Jockey Club.  I saw adorable little cafes that I'd love to go back to.  Once I turned a corner, I had magnificent views for a long time of the Christ statue up on the mountain. There were lots of playgrounds and bike rental stands everywhere.  

The path around the lake is 4.8 miles long.  I wasn't sure when I went out if I would walk the whole way around or go out for a bit and turn back.  The path is marked every 100 meters so you can have some idea of where you are (as long as you know what marker you started at).   Thankfully, I noticed the markers early on so I knew at which point it wasn't worth turning back.  And even more thankfully, I knew my starting point because at some point, I lost all sight of our apartment.  I could not see the mountain behind it, I could not see the mountain beside it (with the concrete pillars), I could not see the swan boats that are rented only in front of our building.  There was a moment of panic until I realized that a) if I kept walking, eventually, I would see the swan boats and b) I'd get back to the 6.3 km marker which is the first one I noticed.

So I walked. And walked some more. I was a bit like Forrest Gump and I just kept walking.  Finally I made it back to the swan boats, but even if I hadn't seen them, the fire trucks were back in front of our building and surely I would not have missed those!

I feel like I accomplished something this morning that made me feel a little bit more like a Carioca!

Carpe Diem, or how to go from Arnold Schwarzenegger to bossa nova in a few easy steps

Before we arrived in Rio, Jimmy was forwarded an invitation to a prescreening of the new Terminator movie.  Taking the advice of a former US Consul General to Rio and his wife who were here a decade ago, (accept every single invitation that initially comes in), we said we'd love to attend the prescreening.

So last Monday we went to a small private theater room in a multi-story building in Centro and watched Terminator Genisys in 3-D.  Before the movie, I struck up a conversation with a woman who turned out to be the stepdaughter of the American gentleman who was hosting the event.  She heard my accent, asked where I was from, and we established common ground over South Carolina when she told me that she and her husband, also in attendance, were musicians who had played recently at the College of Charleston and at the University of South Carolina.  Kay told me that they were playing a little gig every Wednesday night at a hotel piano bar for a few weeks until they go to Japan to perform and that we were welcome to come anytime.

(Accept every single invitation that initially comes in.)

So two nights later, Jimmy and I attended the Canada Day celebration at the Canadian consulate (where some of the Canadian national soccer team were in attendance) and then went to the hotel piano bar to hear Kay and Mauricio play.

When we got there, Kay's stepfather and mother (an American woman who has lived in Brazil for decades now and who is a famous actress here) were already there.  Kay told us that her father would be coming as well so we'd get to meet him.  Now we were clueless and didn't know who "he" was.  I foolishly thought maybe she was giving us fair warning that there could be awkwardness between all the parents and stepparents in attendance.

The group started playing - Kay sings and plays guitar, Mauricio plays guitar and they had a pianist and bass player as well.  They sang all these great bossa nova songs that for Jimmy and me, scream Brazil.  It was pure magic.  Kay's mother, Kate, is a justifiably very proud mama and she would sing along or tell me that this or that song was her favorite or that this song was written by Kay's dad.

Um, what?

Over the course of the first set, we learned that Kay's father, Kate's ex-husband to whom she was married for decades, is Carlos Lyra, who along with more well-known artists like Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes, founded bossa nova.


After the first set, Carlos Lyra himself came into this intimate lounge that seated maybe 30 people and sat at the table with his second wife, Kay's mother and stepfather, and us.  He sang a few songs over the next two sets with Kay, he took photos with people who asked, and he was incredibly charming and funny.  I was awestruck. I felt like we were in the presence of genius.  I've never met anyone who helped to found an iconic genre of music that defines an entire nation.  CUH-RAZY.

(For more information on Carlos Lyra, click here for a great, recent article about him in the NY Times.)

As an aside:  As you may know, I took a Portuguese conversation class through Arlington Adult Ed in the spring.  My teacher was from a city close to Rio and loves music.  We spent every class talking about different artists, listening to the music, reading the lyrics and singer biographies out loud.  All I could think was how much extra credit I could earn if she knew what I was doing that night.

Kate, me, Jimmy, and Steve during the show

Carlos and Kay Lyra singing together, accompanied by Kay's husband Mauricio

 I've learned a valuable lesson in all this.  Just say yes and be open to every opportunity.  Carpe diem. Seize the day.   You never know when a trip to see Terminator Genisys could turn into this:

Jimmy, me, Kay, Mauricio, Kate, Carlos, Carlos' wife, and Steve

Friday, July 3, 2015

this morning from the apartment

I thought I would sit on the balcony this morning and update the blog, but there is just too much street noise on a Friday mid-morning to be comfortable.  I'm not the world's best sleeper and this noise goes on pretty constantly (our bedroom faces the noisy side of the apartment), so you can imagine the bags under my eyes after a week of poor sleep!

A little video to give you a taste:

(When I watch the video, it doesn't sound like lots of noise, but trust me.  There's just a constant humming of cars and sirens and people yelling and motorcycle horns honking.)

I'd like to point out some things of interest that you may have missed in the video.  (Sorry for dark pictures - the rainy weather is rolling in for the weekend.)

There are some unique marvels of engineering feat that can be viewed from our apartment.  To the left of our balcony, we can see this view:

Do you see what I see?

Here, let me give you close-ups of the left and right sides of that shot:

The mountain is being held up by what looks like concrete.

By concrete.

First of all, how did they get they get those beams under there?

Second of all, I hope the real estate prices of the apartment buildings that abut the mountain are cheaper than those not right on the mountain since they're serving as the first line of defense in case the beams give and the mountain crumbles.

Third of all, I'm glad there's a little distance between us and the mountain in case the Quikrete fails.

(With that said, the back of our apartment abuts the same mountain but I haven't seen any concrete beams on our side.)

Directly in front of our building is a little monument and plaza that the firefighters use for some sort of training.  We've now seen them twice in the last week here.  They raise the ladders, lower the ladders, shoot some water around and then head off with all sirens blaring.

More on the housing situation later, but it looks - fingers crossed - like we may move into our real residence in September!  We toured the house yesterday and I'm happy to report that I could not hear the first bit of street traffic when I stood on the balconies!