Friday, November 11, 2016

perhaps the funniest (but still accurate) quote I've read about the election....

TBS' "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee" opened with Bee asking how everyone was doing before trying to figure how everything went "spectacularly wrong."
"What we did was the democratic equivalent of installing an above-ground pool," Bee said. "Even if we're lucky and it doesn't seep into our foundations, the neighbors will never look at us the same way again."
(with my apologies to you if you have an above-ground pool...)

Thursday, November 10, 2016


The sun definitely still rises every single day, no matter what's happened the day (or two) before.

Today I am heartened by several things:

1) the blog comments and emails in response to my post yesterday that I've received from a number of you (thank you!);
2) the messages of solidarity that I've received from friends of other nationalities from all over the world (thank you!);
3) the fact that Secretary Clinton won the popular vote so I (and friends of the same mindset) are not in the minority after all;
4) the encouragement and motivation and "filling up" I feel from being a member of and reading the posts by the not-so-secret Pantsuit Nation.

We are not alone in our hopes and dreams and desires for our country.  We've got to stay focused on making it better for our children and our communities.  Drown out the background noise of the naysaying and move forward.

I don't know if you watched Secretary Clinton's concession speech yesterday, but if you missed it, you should hightail it right to the Internet and watch it again and again.  Even if you're a Trump supporter.  Especially if you're a Trump supporter.  It was the best, most heartfelt speech of her life, despite, I'm sure, being the most difficult to deliver.  She is such a class act and really showed her class, grit, and grace yesterday.  I was inspired.

I'll close with some of my favorite quotes from the speech:

"Please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it. It is, it is worth it."

"And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams."

"For now our responsibility as citizens is to keep doing our part to build that better, stronger, fairer America we seek, and I know you will."

"Finally I am so grateful for our country and for all it has given to me. I count my blessings every single day that I am an American. And I still believe as deeply as I ever have that if we stand together and work together with respect for our differences, strength in our convictions, and love for this nation, our best days are still ahead of us."

"Let us have faith in each other, let us not grow weary, let us not lose heart, for there are more seasons to come.  And there is more work to do."  

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

the election

I went to run at the beach this morning to try and clear my head after seeing the results of the Presidential election.  After the run, I sat for a while and listened to the waves rolling in.

Unfortunately, it was a very low tide and the waves weren’t crashing loudly enough to block out what sounded strangely like cries of hatred, bigotry, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and misogyny coming all the way down the Atlantic Ocean from the United States to Brazil.

I get that many Americans wanted change, that they wanted fresh blood in the White House, that they wanted a Washington outsider, that they wanted the quality of life back that they think has been stolen by Washington insiders and immigrants.

I got it.

I hope everybody’s clear about who “we” have chosen in the name of having an outsider (and possibly in the name of having a non-female) in the White House.  “We” have chosen someone to be the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA who has insulted every single sector of the American population other than old, white men.  Who has used language so foul, base and vulgar that were my child to speak like that, he would be punished for the remainder of the days he lived under my roof.  Who has shown no grasp of or concrete plans for foreign or domestic policy.  Who has considered himself smart for not paying taxes for years while the rest of us middle classers got stuck with the hefty tax bills year after year.  Who has threatened to build walls, deport people, end free trade agreements, and end the US’s participation in NATO.  Who has cozied up to foreign leaders who are completely at odds with US foreign policy.  Who has acted like a petulant child in debates with his constant interruptions and one-liner jabs.  Who has mocked disabled people, threatened the press, and is accused of sexually assaulting women.  Who has used a Twitter account in the middle of the night to bully people he doesn’t like.  Who has shown time and time again his immorality, arrogance, ignorance, and poor temperament.

That is our President-Elect. 

Well done, America.  Well done.  (Insert slow clap here.)

I am saddened and embarrassed and overwhelmed with grief for the United States of America.  I know we’re better than this, but boy, does this cut deep today.  I wish you’d heard me trying to explain to my distraught 13 year-old son this morning how this could happen.  How do "we" elect someone whose behavior is exactly how we teach our children not to act?  It's a tough sell, but we have to march on in the face of this incredible decision, if only out of respect for the office and title of President and Commander in Chief.

Now we all live with this decision for the next four years.  I hope and pray that our new President surrounds himself with really intelligent, capable, thoughtful, slow-trigger advisors and Cabinet members.  I will continue to pray for our already-great nation and its leaders.  I will pray that there is still a great United States of America for my son to recognize in four years.  I will pray that the checks and balances created by our Constitution will actually work to prevent insanity by a President whose party also controls the Senate, the House and will have great sway over the Supreme Court. 

In the meantime, we are going to double down on our family values and make sure there’s no room for hatred, bigotry, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and misogyny in our lives.  We will make sure we surround ourselves with compassionate, civil, inclusive people who share these same values.  I can demand nothing less for my precious child. 

To quote Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "America is great because America is good".  I intend to make sure that we purposefully and intentionally live our lives modeling that good to the rest of the world, no matter what comes out of DC. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

my closet

I have never considered myself a closet person.  Or really even understood why people on HGTV get so excited about closet space.  

Life in the Foreign Service has afforded me some pretty nice closets in the past.  (Here's looking at you, old house in Brasilia.)  And life in the Foreign Service has afforded me some pretty horrible closets in the past.  (Here's looking at you, Arlington, and that 2 square feet of closet space.)

This rental house takes the cake.  I have never seen in a real house, much less lived in a house, with such a grand master bedroom closet.  Honestly, there is room for EVERYTHING I own.  Including what we affectionately call "the Wal-Mart", which is our multi-year stockpile of stuff like Band-Aids and sunscreen, our luggage, sporting equipment, the dog's airplane carrier, etc. 

It is the best closet ever, and I am spoiled for anything that follows it.

Shoes...  and Leo... and two rows of baseball hats and visors.  

Wal-Mart, dirty clothes, sporting equipment, luggage and the dog carrier (in a blurry photo)

Closet, glorious closets.  And a make-up mirror with fancy lights.  Too bad I don't wear make-up.

Over there with that chair is Jimmy's closet.  His and hers closets.  The hers is bigger than the his.  (sorry for the blur.)

Leo in the reflection

Empty storage space all over this closet.  It really is a dream closet.  And those two pull-out drawers are black felt-lined jewelry drawers.  Except that I don't have any fancy jewelry to put in them so I have two fancy drawers full of Advil and Benadryl and Mucinex and stuff like that.  
a panoramic from the Wal-Mart corner

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Book Recommendation

I just finished reading A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. You can read all the reviews online for a synopsis so I'll save you from any spoilers.  All I can tell you is it's the most charming and poignant novel I've read in ages.  I laughed and cried and rooted for Ove through all his heartbreak and curmudgeon-y behavior and ultimately through the renewal of his life's purpose.

***** out of *****  

Now I'm off to download Mr. Backman's other novels...

P.S.  I was stuck in the tunnel yesterday for over 5 minutes yesterday afternoon.  Adele's "When We Were Young" had just started when I lost reception, but naturally it was long over by the time I got reception again.  This game is harder than you think!

Friday, October 21, 2016

my newest hobby

The late bus from school (for after-school sports and clubs) doesn't come to our new house, so now that we've moved, I have to drive to school three afternoons a week to pick up Mac after basketball. 

The shortest way from our new house to school is right through Rocinha, the largest (in population) favela in Rio de Janeiro.  (For context, the population of Rocinha is estimated to be between 100,000 and 300,000.  Our hometown of Moncks Corner has a population of less than 10,000.)

However, we're not allowed to drive through favelas, so I have to take a nearly mile-long tunnel under the favela and through the mountain and  then drive back up around the other side of the mountain.  If traffic is moving, time in the tunnel is relatively minimal.  But if traffic is slow or not moving (more often than not), it can take minutes to get through the tunnel.

In a mile-long tunnel that runs through a mountain, you lose all radio reception no matter how fast you drive through it.  My newest hobby is to try to keep singing whatever song is on the radio after I lose radio reception to see if I'm on the same part of the song as the radio when reception picks back up on the other side of the tunnel.

I lose the game every single time.  Every single time.  I'm very disappointed in myself and hope that practice makes perfect in the future.  

Sunday, October 16, 2016

why does buying jeans have to be so hard?

Next to bras, buying jeans is the single hardest wardrobe staple to buy.  When we're in the US, my jeans-buying involves going to some jeans-selling store and taking about 12 pairs of the same cut/size/style of jean into the dressing room and trying on what should be exactly the same thing, getting frustrated that nothing fits right and leaving with no new jeans.

I came to Brazil with two pairs of jeans.  One is a beloved pair from Old Navy that I think I bought when Mac was about 18 months old.  I didn't wear them out of the house (at least not often), but they were worn and comfortable and fit like a champ.  But jeans that are over 11 years old only will last for so long.  One sad day recently I put them on and realized there was a giant rip in the seat so they got thrown away.

The other pair of jeans I brought to Rio are a pair from the GAP that are maybe four or five years old.  Because I buy jean so infrequently, I can remember the young, enthusiastic sales guy at the GAP on King Street in Charleston who told me exactly what cut I needed. And he was right!  Those were the best-fitting jeans I've ever bought, but they, too, were starting to look tired.

I decided that I needed two new pairs of jeans, but I just could not be bothered with trying on jeans in Rio.  It's traumatic enough for me to do it in the US, but to do it in a place where, by the looks of people in jeans here, they sell two sizes only (small and extra-small), would cause irreparable damage to the psyche.

So I ordered jeans online.  I checked the sizing in my well-fitting GAP jeans and found a pair online that I liked in that same size.  I also ordered a pair from Old Navy.

They arrived this week and I am very pleased to tell you that they fit perfectly through the problem waist, hip and thigh areas.

The issue is the length.  Apparently people who wear my size in the waist must all be professional basketball players who are at least 6'2" tall.  Who are the model-tall women that GAP and Old Navy are selling jeans to?  I ordered Regular fit and not Tall, so I can imagine how long the Talls would have been.

Off to the tailor this week, which should be loads of fun.  In addition to shortening the jeans, I'm going to have to explain why I don't want them tightened up all the way around....


Wednesday, October 12, 2016


People, are you watching This is Us?  If not, you need to start now.  You're not too far behind and it is worth it to catch up.  Seriously, do not pass Go, do not collect $200.  Just figure out how to watch the back episodes and get on it.

(I should say it's worth it to catch up if you like well-written, thoughtful, funny, poignant, a bit of sad, and a lot of emotional real-life family drama television.  And I get that not everybody likes that.  I was trying to explain the premise of the series to Jimmy and his eyes glazed over and he said I didn't need to bother.  It's sort of how I felt when he couldn't watch the end of the Carolina ballgame on Sunday afternoon and while reading the football plays in the car on his cell phone en route to dinner, he explained everything that was happening to me.  As if I cared.  But at least I never told him not to bother.)

Anyway, if you were a fan of Parenthood or Brothers & Sisters, you simply must watch this show.  You'll get all the feels as it literally covers every life topic from pregnancy, stillbirth, adoption, young marriage, old marriage, childhood and adult relationships among siblings, childrearing, obesity, living in the shadows of someone else, sibling rivalry, what motivates people to succeed, bonding with your children, postpartum depression, secrets that we keep, new relationships, relationships with our parents as adults, etc.

And that's only through episode three!

The writers have created this amazing story that flashes back and forward and is so thoughtful and heartwarming and saddening and beautiful.  The actors were perfectly cast and I just cannot get enough of it.

Do not miss it, peeps!

Monday, October 10, 2016

politics and presidents

I am dumbfounded, shocked, and embarrassed by how ugly this presidential election is.  It's an embarrassment to the great people of America, although I must confess that I'm not sure who all these people are that got one person on the ticket in the first place.  I have very defined ideas on this election and opinions on both of the candidates, but I'm taking the counsel that it is best for me to keep my mouth shut for a number of reasons.

What I will say is this:

I think one person is supremely qualified to be the next President of the United States of America by resume and history alone.  I would go so far as to say that this person is the most qualified candidate for President in the last umpteen election cycles.  

And I think one person is outrageously and morally and ethically and everything else-ly unqualified to be the next President of the United States of America by resume and history alone.  I would go so far as to say that this person is the least qualified candidate for President in the last umpteen election cycles.

I pray everyday that America chooses well and wisely on November 8.  

Thursday, October 6, 2016

tough day on the western front

Some days parenting a teenager is really hard work.

Especially when math homework is involved.

It's a job not for the faint of heart.

And today I'm feeling a little faint of heart.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

haircuts all around

Leo and I are on the same haircutting cycle.  We generally get our 'dos done on the same day, once a month.  If I look at him and his hair looks long, I can assume mine does, too, and I schedule us appointments.

Because of the Paralympic schedule, Leo actually skipped a month and really looked like a shaggy pup.  Everybody in the house loved the long hair except for me.  And since I'm the only one who would think to get the dog's hair cut, I decided I could cut it when I wanted and as short as I wanted.

Leo normally has a groomer come to the house, but he really doesn't like the groomer.  Actually I don't know if it's the groomer who's the problem; I think Leo doesn't like that there's no hot water outside for the groomer to use for the bath. Leo is a warm-water kind of guy.

And I normally go to a salon near our old house. Although I could go back there, there's no easy parking and it would be a hassle.

So I decided we'd both go to the fancy mall that's close to our new house where they have a fancy people salon and a fancy pet boutique, both of which cut hair.  Both trips were successful enough.  Thankfully I got back to pick up Leo just before they sprayed him with dog perfume.  I kid you not.



(We're still working on Leo's selfie-taking skills.  He surely will have mastered that by the time we've lived in Brazil for three years.)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Hello. Hello. Is anybody out there?

It's been a long time since my last post in March.

Even though a) I know I've lost all five of my loyal readers in the last 6 months, and b) you've seen everything I've been doing on Facebook anyway and haven't missed one iota of my life, I still feel like I want to write.

The Olympics and Paralympics were a great big blur of life that I cannot even begin to comprehend.  It was such a great time to live in this amazing city.  There was a pulse, a hum of activity and energy, a positivity here, and I loved every second of it.   (Blogger doesn't like "positivity and I'm getting that wavy red line underneath it.  Isn't that real word?  If it's not, it should be.)

And then about 40 minutes after the Paralympics closed, we moved house.  Literally.  Almost 40 minutes after the Paralympics closed.

We knew this move was going to happen, but a year from now, 6 months from now, after the Olympics seems like a long time away.  Until it's not.

So the Paralympics ended on Sunday night late, and we started the move on Monday and slept in the new house on Tuesday.  Almost 40 minutes exactly.

The new house is great in many, many ways.  It's the biggest house I've ever lived in and is lovely and open and airy.  It's surrounded by green and has an orchid garden inside the house.  (an orchid garden.  Inside the house.)  The landlord left his furniture which looks like it belongs in the most comfortable yet sophisticated beach house on a white sandy beach in Florida somewhere.  There is not much to dislike about this house.

But just to get it all out in the open, I'll name a couple things that I dislike.

1.  All that green means that we have some animals around these parts.  I routinely see monkeys in the front yard trees.  And that's okay if the monkeys stay in those trees.  My big fear is that the monkeys will somehow jump through the open windows, which we leave open a good bit. (Because there are wide overhangs on the roof, the rain that has fallen nearly since we moved in doesn't blow inside).  I do not want monkeys in the house.

2.  We had a rogue hummingbird in the house on Friday.  I had a friend over for coffee and thought I saw a shadow pass behind her in another room.  And then the shadow came back.  There's a young caretaker couple who live on the property, so I immediately called the husband and asked him to "caretake" of this hummingbird.  He captured it only after the poor bird bonked itself on one of the big glass windows.

3.  We also had a possum in the house, so I'm becoming very conscientious about wild animal intrusion.  Mac was at a sleepover on Saturday, and Jimmy and I went out for dinner for friends.  We returned home around 11pm, and Jimmy went to the kitchen to get us water for our bedside tables.  I heard him say, "uh-oh" in a loud voice after which he told me there was a possum in the pantry.  I'm sorry, what?  The pantry is like a huge closet off on the side of the kitchen and the possum was hanging out.  He must not have been there too long because he hadn't gotten into anything yet.  I went to get one of the two guards who are always at our house and said they needed to come on inside and help us wrangle up a possum.  (Just kidding.  I don't know all those words in Portuguese. It was more my screaming in Portuguese that "we have a wild animal in the kitchen"  and then gesticulating what I think are the universal charades motions for possum.)  They got a cardboard box and headed upstairs while I got Leo and headed way upstairs.  By now, the possum was behind the water filter machine, playing dead.  That was probably sort of cute.  Thankfully it was also helpful because Jimmy could push the possum-playing possum from behind the water machine and into the box that the guard was holding.  The possum really liked that game because he stayed still while they closed the box and took him outside.

So then began my worry about how this stupid animal got into the house.  As I mentioned, we leave windows (and doors) open, but on Saturday night, everything was closed up tight.  How did this animal get in?  The problem is that we don't have a back door on this house.  I know it's weird - and it's the one thing we said we'd change if this house were ours. The back steps go down into an area where the guards hang out and where this caretaker couple lives.  There's also a laundry room and a storage room and the area leads directly out into the garage.  The laundry room is basically open to the elements and we think the possum came in there, climbed over this little babygate thing that's we close at the bottom of the stairs to keep Leo outside when nobody is home, and moseyed on up to the kitchen to make himself at home.

All I can tell you is that if that possum or any of his friends come back when I'm home by myself, I will likely just close the door, walk away, and pretend I never saw it.  I cannot face a wild, feral animal in my house.

3.  There is no back door.  See item 2 above.  This is weird and I don't like it.

4.  Our new neighborhood is nice and is probably where Jimmy would choose to live if he could choose any neighborhood in Rio.  HOWEVER, the only places I can walk to here are the grocery store, a fancy pet store (that is soon going to open a coffee shop where you can sit and drink coffee with your pup, a bakery and a gas station. Oh, and the beach is a much easier and closer walk than at our last house. And it's a much prettier beach than our last beach.  Actually scratch this negative.  The grocery store and the beach are my favorite places on earth, so I'm all good on this one. (But I do miss walking down the hill to my pilates class, restaurants and shops.  Now I have to drive the car everywhere and I've already scratched the car.  It's amazing the damage that doesn't get done to a car when it just sits in the garage all day.)

5.  I think the house has a mildew issue because my very sensitive nose can smell that stuffy mildewy, moldy smell all the time here.  You know what I'm talking about, right?  Jimmy and Mac don't seem to mind it or even smell it, so I'm hoping once this interminable rain ends, I can really air things out and get the smell to go away.

With all that really negative-sounding complaining, the living is quite good and fairly easy here.  We still have our regular housekeeper and our chef so between them and this other live-in couple, we rarely lift a finger to do anything.  So I think I'll just pipe down and put my sorries in a sack, as Jimmy likes to say, and enjoy this nice spot for the 3-8 months we'll be living here.

Hope that all is well in your corner of the world.

Susan x

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

random musings since my last post

1. Jimmy and I went to see Lionel Richie in concert.  You can make fun if you want; it matters not to me.  All I'm saying is that if you lived your adolescence (or slightly later) in the 80s, Lionel Richie provided the soundtrack to the whole miserable existence and you know you love him for that reason alone.  What this means in practical terms is that we were on the youngish side of the audience.  To put it into perspective, the people sitting in front of us didn't take photos on their iPhone.  No, they used one of those old-school digital cameras that really nobody takes around anymore, except some old people.  It was that sort of crowd.  The sort of crowd that had to take frequent rest breaks after dancing through one song.  I have no great photos to share.  Suffice it to say that Lionel Richie is a fantastic performer who sings exactly what his audience wants to hear:  all the stuff from the Can't Slow Down album from 1983 (and yes, it was an album and not a CD) and even all the great Commodores hits.  A surprisingly fun night!

2.  Rio hosted a professional beach volleyball tournament, which I attended for several days.  There is something very cool about seeing these talented people play in what surely must be the cathedral of beach volleyball of Copacabana Beach.  Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross won the whole thing, which was super exciting to see.  Remember I watched them play back in September before Kerri had her shoulder surgery.  She was all taped up, serving underhand, blocking at a bare minimum, and not spiking at all.  She had surgery right after that tournament, has done rehab for months, and came out in beast mode. No tape until the end of the tournament, overhand serves, incredible blocking and spiking.... She is so inspiring to me - in her late-30s, 3 kids, and still dominating.  Uh-mazing!

At the tournament, I met the parents and husband of another American player.  The dedication of these athletes is well-documented, but let me tell you a little story about the dedication of the families behind these athletes.  The US will not announce its beach volleyball qualifiers for the Olympics until June 13.  Until then these players are playing in every tournament they can get to.  If I understood correctly, in non-Olympic years, the players play tournaments more selectively because they get points for winning and lose points for losing.  In Olympic years, however, they don't lose points for losing so they play as many tournaments as they can because they have nothing to lose but they have everything to gain if they win.  In June, the top two female teams and top two male teams (top meaning whichever teams have the most points from these qualifying tournaments) will know they're going to the Olympics, which start in early August.

Now, the families of these teams certainly can't wait until June 13 to try and secure lodging, airline tickets and tickets to the events themselves.  So this particular athlete's family, without knowing whether their daughter/wife/sister will even make the Olympics, has had to spend money as if she will make the team (and she does stand a good chance of doing so).  And when I say they've spent money, I'm not talking about a couple thousand dollars here and there.  They have rented an apartment for the entire Olympic period because they couldn't just rent for the time period during which beach volleyball will take place. That little apartment, which is neither fancy nor super convenient to where the beach volleyball will take place, set them back $27,000.  Then they had to buy beach volleyball tickets.  Now the problem with buying any tickets this far out is that you have no idea who's playing when or on what court.  So they just bought up as many beach volleyball tickets (plus Opening Ceremony tickets so they can see their daughter march in and watch me dance!).  It's all a gamble as to whether they even have tickets that will be at the right time or court to watch their daughter play.  Those tickets were a whopping $33,000.  So before airline tickets, before food and incidental expenses while in Rio for a couple weeks, before taking leave from work, they are out of pocket $60,000.  And they don't even know for sure if their daughter will be in the Olympics.  Talk about love and devotion and commitment to your nearly 30 year-old kid.

3.  I attended the "inspiring women" International Women's Day reception at the UK Consulate.  Here's me with two other "inspiring women":
Excuse the weird smile. I'd just been gobbling down this delicious cake covered with fresh fruit and was convinced I had seeds stuck in my teeth.  Happy to report I could have smiled normally. 
4. I have recently returned from a week in Maui with my mom to celebrate her upcoming 70th birthday.  I had never been to Maui before so it was wonderful to explore a new island.  Maui is much more developed than my ideal, but Hawaii never disappoints.  We had great weather (cool and a little rainy the first two days but then it was gorgeous), and we were able to enjoy a trip to Hana, a fantastic luau, whale watching, fabulous beaches, and great food.  PLUS they have a Target and outlet shops on Maui so I got to shop for some "necessities".  It was fabulous week.
Our sweet ride for the week.  Why?  Because #yolo and #gigiturns70 only once

a little hibiscus aloha love from me to you
On the road to Hana

On the road to Hana

On the road to Hana

Hula Girls
Some other Hula Girls

On the road back from Hana
A few hours spent at Ka'anapali Beach are a few hours well spent
Our daily afternoon rainbow out the back side of the condo
The seawall view in front of our group of condos 
a beach in the Wailea area (I think)

Mom and me overlooking Honolua Bay

Sunset direct from our condo's lanai
5.  While in Maui, I got official notification that I'm a dancer in the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics. Actually they call us Cast Members, like we work at Disney World.  Our first practice is in late May.  I've taken an oath of secrecy so I won't be able to share any details with you, but before the Ceremony, I'll let you know in which quadrant of your tv you can look for me.  I hope you have a really big-screen tv.

6.  I've started a new workout routine.  And it very likely could kill me.  Have you heard of this Instagram sensation young woman, Kayla Itsines?  She has something like 27 quadrillion followers because she posts all these "before and after" photos of people who have incredible bodies in bikinis after doing her workout.  So I have paid $54.99 (I think) for a month of the workout.  I am on day 4.  Did I mention that it could kill me?  I did legs on Sunday and still can barely walk on Wednesday.  It takes me minutes to descend our stairs.  Arms were Monday, and that workout made my abs hurt.  Cardio was yesterday and I only got to abs today, which means that if my abs were hurting from the arms workout, imagine how they're going to feel after the real abs workout.  I am going to stick with this for a month and see what my before and after photos look like.  Assuming, of course, the routine doesn't kill me first.

That is all my news at the moment.  If you don't hear from me within a month less 4 days, send someone to look for me.  I'll be on the back patio, encrusted in the salt left by my sweat, curled up in the fetal position on my yoga mat, likely with my tongue hanging out.  Cheers!


Saturday, March 5, 2016

P.P.S. Marshmallows

I don't want to brag, but I believe I made a superior marshmallow. I don't even like marshmallows, but I can't stop eating my homemade marshmallows. I'm not sure how I'll ever go back to the jet-puffed kind. 

Using my superior product, we made the most delicious s'mores in the history of s'moredom. Our BBQ coals were nearly nonexistent, but there was enough heat to warm the marshmallows even though they never got truly toasted. All of us, except the vegetarian, enjoyed the yummy goodness of the gelatin-based marshmallows. 

(Roasting on skewers because I couldn't find my fancy extendable marshmallow roaster.)

(Mac on about his 5th s'more)

(The Leaning Tower of S'moredom - even though the marshmallow doesn't appear toasted, it was hot enough to melt the chocolate and destabilize the entire construction)

P.S. Marshmallows

One of the sleepover friends is vegetarian (which I knew and have planned meals around).

I have been informed that unless the marshmallows were made with pectin and not gelatin, he is unable to eat the marshmallows. 

More for me. 


I'm not sure if they're right and they're definitely not cut uniformly, but they taste like really fresh, sweet marshmallows.  They're pretty good if I do say so myself. 

Mac has three friends sleeping over tonight so we will test out the roasting ability of these homemade marshmallows  after our BBQ tonight when we make s'mores for dessert. 

Stay tuned. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016


This morning I woke up refreshed at 5:40am, a full 20 minutes before Jimmy's alarm went off and a whopping 35 minutes before I actually had to get out of bed myself. 

Today was very productive. 

* I put in more than my 5 required hours of paid work.  

* I walked down the mountain (instead of taking the bus) to the grocery store and the fruit and veggie store. (I did take the bus back, but can you blame me?  It's all uphill.) 

*I got a lovely invitation to a happy hour next week to celebrate International Women's Day. Each person who attends must bring a woman who inspires her. My friend invited me because "you are an incredible consort/consulesa for the US Consulate. You have your own profession that you are fulfilling remotely from Rio, represent the US government at a vast number of events with so much enthusiasm, ease and humour, and on top of all that you are a wonderful Mum!" That little gift right there makes me want to try to be a better person. 

* Appropos of nothing, I made homemade marshmallows. It's about 90 degrees in Rio so it's not like I'm drinking hot chocolate or making s'mores at the firepit on a cold winter's night. There's no holiday coming up that requires sweet potatoes with a marshmallow topping. I don't even really like marshmallows. It just seemed a challenge to make them because who really makes homemade marshmallows? Except the Barefoot Contessa, that lady from Smitten Kitchen, the chef at my beloved Liberty Tavern in Arlington for their Thanksgiving sweet potatoes, and my sister-in-law Charlotte, who, after eating the sweet potatoes at Liberty Tavern on Thanksgiving a couple years ago, started making her own marshmallows. But other than that, who makes homemade marshmallows when you can buy the jet-puffed ones at the Harris Teeter. 

I rose to the challenge today. The marshmallows are in the drying phase, which takes hours. Truth be told, I think I may have made marshmallow fluff and not exactly a product that will firm up and dry out to be cut into a legitimate marshmallow. There was the little issue of the sugar syrup boiling over while I waited for the candy thermometer to register 240 degrees. Then as I moved the pot off the burner while the sticky mess (that never made it to 240 degrees) was oozing all over the stovetop, a minor fire broke out on the burner cover. No biggie - I was able to blow it out like a big birthday candle - but then I was distracted watching to see if it would catch again. I lost some liquid from the spillage that should've gone in the mixer to make the marshmallows. Whatevs. 

We'll see how it all comes out later. The finished product itself tasted excellent and it was super glossy and gorgeous. I'm just not 100% sure that the marshmallow "batter" was supposed to be super glossy.  Here's my pan of marshmallows, in the drying phase, and dusted with powdered sugar as instructed by the Barefoot Contessa:

If you have good recipes that call for marshmallow fluff, send them my way. I have a Pyrex pan full of fluff just waiting to be consumed. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

my dance audition

(Carnaval recap will continue soon...)

We often quote to Mac the expression "show me your friends and I'll show you your future" as a way to stress the importance of surrounding yourself with smart, like-minded people who share the same values and principles.

Well, let me show you my friends and I'll show you my future.

A couple weeks ago one of my expat friends sent an email around to a bunch of us generally middle-aged women to say that the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the Olympics and Paralympics were 75% short of volunteers and by volunteering to be a participant, we could see the ceremonies from inside of Maracana Stadium (since none of us has tickets to the ceremonies).  She went on to say that her friend, the Logistics Director for all the ceremonies, assured her that "provided you can move without falling over, then there is a spot for you".


A group of us registered and signed up for the same audition time:  Sunday afternoon at 2:30pm.  We figured there was safety in numbers, we could copy each other if we didn't understand the instruction in Portuguese (the terms and conditions said instruction would be given only in Portuguese), and we'd have a good laugh and a story to tell at the end of it all.  We also agreed that the Las Vegas tourism motto would be our motto:  what happens at the audition, stays at the audition.  

We met for a coffee ahead of time and caught cabs over to the audition place.  We all got in line where we were given race bibs to pin on our shirts.  Then we got called up one by one where they checked you in and measured every single part of your body.  I don't know what the costume will involve, but I've had my head, inseam, outseam, bust, waist, hips, and feet measured.  They left nothing to chance.

Here we all are, after check-in and before the audition itself
By now, everyone knew there was a large contingent of foreigners who spoke English, which was great because at each step of the process, someone came over and explained all the instructions in English to us.

We were then shepherded to an un-air-conditioned gym where the actual audition would take place.  Now my plan had been to stand in the back the whole time so I could watch the people in front of me.  Brazil is not often very organized, but naturally - with my luck and inability to remember any sequence of dance beyond the 16 beats of the Macarena - this was supremely well-organized.  That meant that there was no hiding in the back.  This was a legit dance audition. LEGIT.

They lined us all up by our numbers so I was about in the middle of the pack but surrounded by expats.  There were 10 people per row and maybe 8 or 9 rows in total.  It was a little intimidating because there were a lot of youthful dancer-looking people present.  Like with leopard skin pants and Timberland boots and leggings and ballerina skirts.  Did I mention I can't remember anything more complicated than the Macarena?

The head choreographer came out and talked some and then this very high-energy female choreographer got on stage and started teaching us the choreography.  It was good for awhile - I could keep it all straight - but she just kept adding and adding and adding.  There was dropping to your knees, jumping back up, flipping around, Madonna moves....  WAY more complicated than the Macarena.

If you've read the blog for awhile, you know I love The Amazing Race tv show.  A season or two ago, they had a dance challenge and several of the couples just could not get the routine down.  I remember thinking how stupid they were and wondering why they couldn't just memorize it and move on.  My apologies to those people.  I got it now.

It would have been one thing if I'd blundered through in the middle of the pack, but as I mentioned, this was a serious audition.  They kept moving each line forward so you had to perform right in front of the judges several times.  

A dance audition in front of real choreographers and judges, all while being compared to Brazilians.  Who come out of the womb with rhythm in their hips.  Really, it was sort of like my worst nightmare except that my real nightmares aren't that bad.

The thing is, though, that we were having so much fun together that I forgot to be really nervous.  I mean, I was nervous.  Hello, have you met my two left feet?  But I was with a fun bunch of women and it didn't really matter how bad I was.  The very worst that could happen is that they would all get invited to participate and I wouldn't.  Not the end of the world.

The choreographers and judges also seemed to be loving this big group of expats trying out so they were so encouraging.  Surely there have been other expats who auditioned but maybe they didn't come en masse?  Even the Brazilians who were auditioning were supportive and cheered us on.  It was a ton of fun.

We danced and we laughed and we giggled and we made fun of ourselves for 90 minutes.

You read that right.

Ninety minutes of hot, sweaty, middle-aged messes dancing around.  I was exhausted.

I'm including two photos that a friend's niece took.  And I'm attaching it because you can only see the expat women in the photos.   There is no way known I'm sending video.  You'll just have to take my word for it that I, um, rocked it.  Completely and totally.

4 beats from the end of the routine.  Please God, let this be over soon.
The end.  

At the end of the audition, we all got the good news that we'd been "selected" as participants.  And by all, I mean everybody in the entire audition, not just the expat women.  I am sure we were all "selected" for our bright, shining talents (or at least the potential for holding it together during the ceremony) and not because they really just needed warm bodies. Right?

So now we wait to hear the training schedule.  It's pretty intense and we'll all have to decide if we can commit.  I'm thinking I can satisfy a couple cravings (real and not real) by actually doing this:  1) I could be closer than ever to a Dancing With the Stars body after months of all that dance training (real); 2) I could end up with a very cool costume (not real); 3) I could learn to dance (real); and 4) I could have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perform in an Olympics opening ceremony (not real but super cool so I might claim it as real).

Stay tuned for more information.....

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Carnaval, Part 2, aka The Bloco That Went Bad

Blocos, or street parties, occur before, during and after Carnaval all over this city.  Depending on their location and popularity, they can be (relatively) small and tame, or they can attract tens of thousands of people and be wild and crazy drunk-fests.  We had been to two blocos prior to the start of Carnaval, and they fell under the former category.  The second one was definitely bigger than the first and definitely less tame, but still we never felt threatened in any way.

I am not exaggerating when I tell you that during the 5 days of Carnaval, we woke up and went to sleep hearing the hum of blocos all around us.  Although they start weeks ahead of Carnaval and don't end up the Sunday after Carnaval (a full 5 days after Fat Tuesday when Carnaval ends in the rest of the world), they are most intense during Carnaval itself, when you can hear the hum in the air if they are close by.

Cut to the bloco after the feijoada and Beija Flor, and it was an entirely different scene from our first two blocos.

We had been invited by Brazilian friends to their apartment for a bloco-viewing party, which, in their words, is the only way to experience this particular bloco in Ipanema.  I declined the invitation because the party started at 4pm, and I knew we'd be at the feijoada until 6.  They told me to come over late, that their apartment was near the Caesar Park and we'd still be able to see the bloco going on.

Their apartment is very close to the Caesar Park Hotel.  On a non-bloco day, it wouldn't take more than a few minutes of a peaceful, beachfront walk to get from one to the other.

Add tens of thousands of people, and the walk was neither fast nor pleasant.  
Photo from O Globo newspaper of the Banda de Ipanema bloco
We all quickly realized I had made a terrible mistake in insisting we go to this party.  The sidewalks weren't terribly busy when we started the walk, but they turned horrible in a flash. Once we were in the middle of this throng, it was impossible to decide whether it was better to push forward or turn back. No matter which way you looked, there were drunk masses of people as far as the eye could see.  

The Mathiasens held on to their girls, I had a death grip on Mac's shoulder (from which I woke up the next morning with a horrible pain in my shoulder and arm), and Jimmy brought up the rear.

We made slow progress.  I can't describe to you the heat, and the jostling, and the pushing, and the general feeling of panicky terror that simmered in my stomach.  

At some point, Jimmy realized his cell phone had been stolen from his pocket, but thankfully his wallet was still in the other pocket.  The rest of us were luckier and lost nothing.

At that point, we decided to abort the mission with the best course of action being to cut across the road and get to the beach.  I felt like if we could get down to the water, we could make our way from Ipanema back towards Leblon, where it would be calmer since the bloco didn't go that far.  Everybody was told the plan and we tried to stick as close together as we could.   

If you look at that photo above, we were as far on the left side as you can be (all the way up against the fences around the apartment buildings).  We pushed and pulled our way across all those people to get to the right side of the photo.  Thankfully, Brazilians love assisting old people and people with children.  Anika was in front of our makeshift conga line, holding Sofie, and people screamed at other people to get out of the way because children were coming through.  Miraculously, it worked and we got across the crowd and onto the sand.

Only to realize that we'd lost Jimmy.  Who no longer had a cell phone.

Mac was very upset about leaving Jimmy behind but after looking for him (imagine the hardest game of Find Waldo! that you've ever played), I convinced him that Jimmy still had his wallet (please God, let him still have his wallet) and could taxi home just as we were planning to do.  (Jimmy's driver was waiting for us some blocks away.  The plan had been to call the driver when we were leaving the party to see where he was parked, but now Jimmy had no way of communicating with him after his cell phone was stolen.)

The five of us trudged down the beach, settled down our nerves, recounted what a horrifying experience the whole thing had been, got in taxis and headed home.  Where we found Jimmy waiting for us.  

Lesson learned:  Never ever go to a bloco ever again.  Ever. 

Next up;  Super Bowl Sunday

Carnaval, part 1

Holy Moly, I think we've lived a few months in the last few weeks.  I really - REALLY - need to tell you about Carnaval in Rio.  I have never seen anything like it, nor have I seen a collective body of people maintain the stamina required to celebrate Carnaval for weeks on end.  (And when I say weeks, I am not exaggerating.)

Our dear friends, the Mathiasens, flew in from Bogota on February 6.  The Mathiasens were our traveling partners in crime when we went to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks a few summers ago.  We had the best time with these guys - and we were camping so if I can say I had the best time while camping, then you know it was truly the best time humanly possible.  We knew we were in for an amazing Carnaval week with them in town.  

We hit the ground running on the afternoon of their arrival with a traditional Carnavalesca feijoada lunch at the Caesar Park Hotel.  Feijoada is the classic Brazilian dish of beans and meat (sort of a stew) served with rice, farofa, collards and orange slices.  I love feijoada - rice and beans are what I grew up on - but during these very hot months of the Rio summer, feijoada does not appeal to me as much because it's such a heavy dish.  But we were told these feijoadas were traditional during Carnaval so off we went to the hotel.

As part of the whole experience, they had make-up artists set up to doll-up anyone who wanted it, and they distributed t-shirts, which you could customize.  The Mathiasen girls took advantage of both and looked stunning with their make-up and bedazzled shirts!
Sofie and Pernille instructing the t-shirt "bedazzlers" on what they wanted done to their shirts.
The food was excellent, but the most fun part was the presence of a dancer and drummers from the Beija Flor samba school.  Beija Flor was the champion of the 2015 Carnaval, and they did not disappoint at the feijoada.  They had everyone up and dancing, even those of us (me) who don't know how to dance samba.
The "bateristas" from Beija Flor

Pernille, Sofie, the Beija Flor dancer, and Mac
Check out that bum-bum...

and those bedazzled boots!

Missing Sofie in this photo, but we got that clown behind Jimmy
And here's Sofie in a post-dancing resting pose...

The Dancing Queens

Clearly giving the professional samba dancer a run for her money.  Now if only we had the right clothes....

So much fun.

A great time was had by all....  

Next up:  the time the blocos went bad....

(Photo Credits to Anika and Bo Mathiasen!)

Monday, February 15, 2016

Major edits to earlier posts....

The previously aforementioned "basketball" players do not, in fact, play basketball. They are/were baseball players. 


As happens more and more frequently, the synapses don't always fire correctly to connect the brain with the fingers. Old posts have been duly corrected. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

More on the BASEBALL players

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 5, 2016

This life

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

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

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

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

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

Our official photo on the red carpet!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bom Carnaval para voces!