Thursday, January 23, 2014

Questioning my sanity

I am not a cook, not really. I can acquire a recipe, purchase the necessary ingredients, follow the step-by-step instructions, and end up with food for my family to eat. (Unless I am talking or parenting while I am supposed to be following the instructions, then things get dicey.)

But I cannot create. There are many wonderful people in my life who enter kitchens without fear, scan pantries with confidence, and then practically effortlessly create food dishes that never would have occurred to me even though it was my kitchen and my pantry and ingredients that I had stared at for weeks.

I have had quite a few cooking fails. These are the more noteworthy: The attempt to replace condensed cream of chicken soup with chicken noodle soup in a casserole. The attempt to "negate" salt with pepper. The attempt to cover up too much crushed red pepper flakes by stirring vigorously. The attempt at chili that tasted more like bean dip. I could go on.

My poor, sweet husband has eaten everything I have made. Only once could he not make it past more than one bite. He's a brave man.

Along with my inability to create in the kitchen and my general dislike at cooking. (It takes up so much time, and then it just turns into poop. I know, I know, I should be proud that it fuels our bodies and helps us live and tastes good and allows dinner time to occur, but I'm pretty negative about it all usually. I would much rather be folding laundry or washing dishes or cleaning mirrors or organizing a drawer.)

So cooking in general is less than delightful.

But meat is the real bane of my existence.

I do not like to cook meat. If I am going to eat meat without forcing myself to look happy, the meat ideally is as dry as possible. Except for the occasional burnt hamburger, very well cooked chicken tender, or crispy (not chewy!) bacon, I wouldn't really miss meat at all.

Jeff likes meat.

I remember feeling so proud of myself when I was a newlywed and made a meatloaf. I actually put my hands—put my hands!—inside of a bowl full of ground beef and mixed ingredients and formed a loaf. I felt like a new woman.

Today though that "new woman" fled. I was a child again. Possibly an insane one.

I decided it was time to make chicken. We've been in Brazil for almost three weeks now, and I can only do so much with rice and pasta.

So chicken.

I had some in my freezer. I had no idea what to do with it. I completely didn't think about food when I was packing for Brazil and did not include a cookbook. (Thankfully, my mom mailed me one two weeks ago; it should be here in about another week.)

I read some websites and decided that I could conquer the chicken.

I got it out of the fridge where it had been thawing. I peeled back the package and wanted to die. That's an exaggeration. I wanted to order Chinese. I wanted to win a million dollars and hire a cook. I wanted to crawl into a corner and suck my thumb. I wanted to be a little kid again.

But I'm the mom, and I have to make dinner.

So I picked it up.

And more horrors continued.

It had a bone in it.


Possibly more than one bone.

I know this is a completely ridiculous problem to so many people, but to me it seemed insurmountable. (Just a month ago, my mom and dad cut my meat off of the bone while I was staying in Michigan, because seeing a bone renders me incapable of eating meat. Once a baby, always a baby?)

Then I looked at the breast underneath, and not only did it have a bone in it (possibly more than one) IT HAD SKIN ON IT.


I bravely continued. My mouth was completely dry, my hands were shaking a little, and I wanted to vomit. But I continued.

My knife cuts through the skin. I think to myself, is that what my skin would be like if I were dead? (My brain screams: SALMONELLA!) My knife cuts off fat. I think to myself, is this what my breast would look like? Or my thigh? (SALMONELLA!) I try to not look at the dark spots that can only mean blood and wonder if this is how a surgeon feels. (SALMONELLA!) I see the bones and imagine mine snapping and wonder how anyone can ever decide to be a butcher. As I rub oil into the breast, my brain goes into overdrive as I wonder if preparing this chicken is at all similar to being a cannibal.  (SALMONELLA!)

Jill enters the kitchen and says, "Why is there a bone? That looks gross. What is that stuff? Ew."

I, as calmly as I can, explain that this is what chicken looks like when it is dead without feathers and that it will look a lot better after it is cooked. I am not sure if she believes me.

She comes back in when I am putting salt and pepper on the chicken, and she says, "Oh wow. Now it looks really good."

Behold the power of salt and pepper.

I wish I worked that way for me.

I have now washed my hands approximately five times with water so hot that I felt like I was burning myself.

Can salmonella be in the air?

I honestly feel like we are all going to get salmonella because there is chicken in my house with skin and bones.

I feel really . . . inadequate. Incapable. Ridiculous. I'm 28 years old, and someone else has really done most of the work to make this chicken ready for cooking, and I am barely holding it together.

Does anyone ANYONE else ever think about how it would feel to cut through their own thighs as they prepare raw meat? Please tell me I'm not completely alone.

Or, at least, share some other task that to other people is completely mundane but to you is practically impossible. I did kill two spiders today, so I guess that's something. Although, I did have some trouble, because I wondered if the spider felt fear or pain before death finally came, and I felt pretty guilty. I only kill them when they are in my house and my kids find them.

But, please, make me feel better about my raw meat cooking handicap.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Winter is inescapable

Okay, I will apologize now for saying that winter is inescapable, because it sounds like all of my loved ones north of me have been dealing with mounds of snow, record-breaking low temperatures, and frostbite-bestowing wind, while our temperature has had highs between 76 and 85 the whole time we've been here, but there is one facet of winter that we were not able to escape.

The whole getting sick part. Bah.

True, it has not been as bad as last winter (yet!), because it hasn't lasted as long. (Last winter was a two month stretch of seemingly nonstop stomach flu, fifth disease, croup, and more stomach flu.) But, who knows? It's still only January!

We had been in Brazil for LESS THAN A WEEK when Jill came down with a fever. Then the kids and I all got runny noses. After about four days, it seemed like Jill was better. That only lasted a day or so. Then EVERYONE WAS SICK. Jeff was the only one who never had a fever, but his throat was giving him a lot of pain. Alice, blessedly, was the least affected of us all. (Breast milk, perhaps?)

After ten days of bearing it semi-well, we contacted the embassy doctor to ask for recommendations on where we could go locally to find out if we were dealing with more than the chest cold that was going around. (The kids and I are not officially affiliated with the embassy since we came on our own as tourists.) Bless his heart, the doctor didn't care and let us all come in to be seen. (On a non-working holiday, no less!)

The verdict: Jill, Daniel, and I have strep throat. Alice seemingly has nothing right now. Jeff had a cold and was dealing with postnasal drip. Honestly, I think Jill and I have strep throat and a cold. Antibiotics are being administered, and we are all well on our way to feeling better.

But it just seems so wrong to be in this gorgeous place with such fabulous weather and be sick. Thank goodness this wasn't a short vacation, or we would have been sick the whole time. 

You may notice that Alice has a magnolia tucked in her ear, courtesy of Jill. We have a magnolia tree in our backyard. I love it. The flowers smell so good!

Sickness aside, I have little to complain about. People have been very nice. I may have already mentioned this, but on the day we flew in, there were groceries, toiletries, and a homemade dinner waiting for us at the house. And two days ago, someone else brought us dinner. And multiple people have offered to drive me to the store or out for errands if I need anything. We've been invited to eat dinner at other homes, swim in pools, meet at the park, and go on play dates.

Obviously people are super nice.

Which leads me to wonder: Are people really just this nice? Or am I just really blessed? Both? I have moved a lot, and in every place, I have been surrounded and supported by really nice people.

I will admit that I make an effort. After having been here for a week, I made five phone calls. Three were to women I had not spoken to before, and two were to women I had met briefly. Three were in Portuguese; two were in English. They were all from church or the embassy (or both).  It was really hard to make those calls. I actually felt sick to my stomach and kind of wanted to cry instead, but I made them, and lo and behold, everyone has been really nice. And I feel like I have friends (or at least people willing to let me become a friend) even though I have barely left the house.

So whether people are nice everywhere, or I have just been fortunate in where I have ended up, I am really grateful for it. It makes moving so much easier. I am very glad that people are being nice to us even though we'll be gone in March; they still seem to think we're worth the effort. Nice. So nice!

Jill is so happy that this house has a tree she can climb.
She is really good at it, except for when Mother Nature reminds her that trees have bugs and bees, too.

I think I have mentioned that there is a park at the end of my neighborhood that has access to the lake. Also at the park is the beginning of a trail path. One day I walked for over two hours (of course that included walking back as well) and still haven't found where the path ends. I might have to give up and try using google map to see. It is a really nice path, regardless of where it leads. It follows the edge of the lake and goes behind the backyard fences of lots of really nice homes. It has street lamps and the occasional bench and pier.

We were walking on it the other day when I said to Jill (Daniel and Alice were both asleep), "Oh, look, aren't those cute little baby palm trees?" Jill promptly instructed me to take their picture, so I "wouldn't forget them." Well, I followed her instructions, and here is their picture. Never to be forgotten.

Don't you want to come visit and walk on this path with me? ;)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Danny turned seven?

Danny turned three on January 7! I was able to borrow a pan from one new friend and was given a cake mix from another new friend, so Danny got to have a cake! And, of course, I had to have brigadeiros. What is a Brazilian birthday party without brigadeiros?! :) Those little chocolate balls are so yummy.

Previously, when I would ask Danny how old he was, he would always say "six." So, on his birthday, when I asked him how old he was, I thought he would still say six. He surprised me though and declared that he was seven! I am working on convincing him that he is three.

We only brought one birthday present to Brazil with us, and he LOVES it. It is a Jake and the Neverland Pirates microphone. It plays music and amplifies your voice, and he loves it. I am pretty relieved. There is a lot of pressure when there is only one present to make his day.

A happy birthday boy!

The kids playing with something that fell off the palm tree.

And here are some videos. I am only embedding one, but it should come with a playlist that includes all of them. The most recent ones are the kids enjoying a hammock, Alice walking, and Danny playing with his birthday present.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

We arrived!

We made it to Brasilia! The flight experience was really interesting. I almost felt like an anthropologist, studying the behavior of American children as sleep deprivation hits. The kids were so good all day, and all of a sudden they just started being naughty—not listening, climbing on things, whining, hitting each other, etc. It was amazing to see how obviously being tired affects how well children can behave. They really were good though, and the naughtiness was at a minimum. No screaming! Thank goodness.

At home, our children go to bed around 7:00 or 7:30. So last Friday was a very late day for them. Our flight to Brasilia left Atlanta a little after 9:00 pm. Dinner was served around 10:30. We were seated in the second to last row. (Actually, all of the children on the plane were seated in the back with us, with the exception of one baby. That had to have been done intentionally.) Since we were in the back, we were very close to the service area for the flight attendants, so even though the cabin lights were dimmed, there was still a bright light shining on us. Finally around 11:30, Jeff asked the attendants to close the curtains. Then we finally had semi-darkness.

Danny fell asleep pretty quickly, while still sitting up, before dinner was served. Jill stayed awake for several hours, playing games and watching movies. Finally she fell asleep. Alice fell asleep some time in between Jill and Daniel. Unfortunately, Daniel woke up after only a few hours of sleep. Alice woke up off and on throughout the night and had to be bounced back to sleep. Daniel played games all through the night.

Finally with only about two hours left on the flight, all three of the children were asleep. Basically Jeff and I didn't get to sleep at all, because there was always a kid awake. It took us a few days to stop being tired.

But even though it was exhausting, I am really grateful that there was not much crying and no screaming. 

It is surreal being in Brazil again. I almost feel like I am going to wake up and discover that it was all a dream. The weather has been amazing. So warm but not super hot. Sometimes Jill talks about how we traveled to summer, like we're on vacation in a season instead of a different country. :) The bedrooms have air conditioning, but the rest of the house stays comfortable with the doors and windows open with fans on. It's amazing and part of what makes it seem dreamlike since I was surrounded by snow just a few days ago.

We are in a big, beautiful house in Lago Sul, with a view of Lake Paranoa from our back patio. There is a park in our neighborhood with public access to the lake. There are also embassies in our neighborhood: Ireland, Mozambique, and others that I can't remember right now. 

It has been really fun to hear Portuguese again. I am trying to speak it. I have had successful conversations, but Spanish keeps slipping in, and my conjugation is bad, but I hope I'll get better. It is so hard to have Spanish and Portuguese battling in my brain. Will every new foreign language be like this? Or is it just because they are so similar, and I'm not strong enough in either? I worry that my brain might only have room for "English and Other," and I won't be able to learn new languages and keep old ones.

People have been really nice about everything. Brazilians are so friendly, and the other embassy workers are very welcoming. It would have been really fun to be here for longer. It is too bad that it didn't work out to come in October like the original plan.

I hope you are doing well! We are enjoying our adventure. :)

The top of one of the trees in our backyard.

Huge palm trees in our backyard.

Children throwing rocks in Lake Paranoa.

Another shot of our backyard. You can see the lake on the right.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Could it really be happening??

If you read this post, then you are pretty caught up. There have been four more unforeseen obstacles put in our way, which at this point should have been no surprise, and we have been continually surprised by how inept some people are at their jobs. I am glad that the people aren't unemployed and homeless, but it would be nice if they could be more adept at performing tasks in a timely manner.

Anyway, I'm done complaining.

WE LEAVE TOMORROW! And the kids and I get to fly with Jeff!! And my parents have purchased plane tickets, so my mom will fly back with me in March, so I won't have to fly internationally with my three children and no other adults. Wonderful, yes? :)

I'm really curious to see how it goes. We'll have a short flight to Atlanta, and then we'll depart from there at 9:00 in the evening to arrive in Brasilia the next morning. I really, really hope my kids will sleep. Apparently there are bassinets you can request on international flights; they are first come, first served, so I hope we get one! I have no idea where my feet will go with a bassinet on the floor, but I would much rather figure out some place to stick my feet than hold Alice the entire time. Assuming, of course, that I can get her to sleep. But surely she will. . . . right?

Which brings me to another point. Alice has had a lot of trouble sleeping since we returned to Virginia. She fought really hard at falling asleep and was waking up six times some nights, and a few nights I ended up sleeping on the LoveSac with her in my arms. The last few nights, however, she has fallen asleep the first time I have tried to get her to sleep, then she wakes up once around midnight, nurses, falls back asleep, and hasn't woken up until after 6:00am. Marvelous!

I can't help but chuckle though that I am about to disrupt her sleep again by going to Brazil. So, during Standard Time, Brasilia is only one hour different from Washington DC. But during Daylight Savings Time, they are three hours different, because they "spring forward" when we "fall back." I am trying to just be grateful for this week when she has remembered how to sleep. Maybe after two or three weeks in Brazil, she'll have learned how to sleep again.

Sleep is so precious.

Alice's first basketball game.
Danny is starting to make some great faces for pictures.
The Maryland colors are very similar to the Cincinnati colors; it was easy to imagine we were at a Bearcats game instead of a Terrapin game . . .
And check out what we were wearing! It was in the seventies the week before Christmas.

We went to the Festival of Lights at the Visitors' Center at the Washington DC Temple.
Alice was very concerned about the camel next to the nativity.

Jill's favorites were the pink trees and the rainbow trees.

Danny's favorites were also the rainbow trees and, no surprise, the blue trees.

Again, look at Danny's face! I don't know if he did that on purpose, but we are catching a lot of great "smiles" on camera these days.

I have to say that I am looking forward to 80 degree weather. I am nervous to see how it goes with speaking Portuguese. I really haven't spoken it since I graduated from BYU, and I've been so Spanish focused since then. Wish me luck! I am curious to find out if my kids will be brave in trying new foods. And I'm VERY curious to see whether Jeff likes being an FM at an embassy, because our future kind of depends on it.

Here is a fun conversation Jeff had with the kids the other day.

Jill: "Danny, you will find a girl soon and get married."
Danny: "No! Not yet."
Jeff: "What is Danny going to do?"
Jill: "He is getting married."
Jeff: "When will this happen?"
Jill: "When he is a teenager."
Jeff: "Who is he going to marry?"
Jill: "His baby sister."
Danny: "No! Mommy. I want to marry Mommy."
Jill: "You can't marry Mommy; she is already married."
Danny: "Oh."