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Posts about our travelling family circus.

Travel

Camping camping camping

That pop-up camper in the background belongs to David’s brother Kenneth and his wife, Amanda.

We have been on 4 camping trips this summer. Two 1-night trips, two 2-night trips. We had planned for at least one trip, but since camping has been shown to be very low Covid risk, and parks opened, we jumped on it. It’s been a great antidote to online learning. The kids bring no screens to the campsite and we all look at our phones rarely.

We did our first family camping trip last summer, and then we did one in Brazil. We’ve learned a lot and have found a camping groove. We keep saying we need to make a list of all the things we need to bring so that we can consult it before heading out.

What to pack for the kids:

  • twice as many socks as days camping
  • old sneakers, water shoes, flipflops or crocs (You want something that they can wear in a river or lake to protect their feet, you want something easy on and off for going in and out of the tent
  • Hats
  • Sunglasses
  • Walking poles or sticks
  • Water bottles
  • Sleeping bag and pillow
  • Hoodie for cold mornings/nights
  • Pants for hiking or cold mornings/nights (if the weather is generally colder, more pants, but I find 1 pair enough for a summer camping trip)
  • Pajamas: if the temp goes below 65, consider long sleeve or fleece pajamas. But I recommend bringing some shorts jammies and some warmer jammies in case of any kind of weather.

What to bring in general for camping:

  • First aid kit
  • Tent (we bought our Suisse Sport Wyoming 8-person tent on Sierra for $90. It was a closeout, so it’s gone now, but we like it. In Brazil we have the Coleman Evanston tent. Love that too and you can buy at Target and Walmart.)
  • Tarp for underneath the tent
  • Sleeping bags (or just a blanket, depending on weather and your desires.)
  • Sleeping pads (we have these Klymit pads. They inflate with about 15 breaths, and roll up into an 8×4 inch bag.)
  • Pillows (regular or inflatable.)
  • Toiletries in an easy to carry caddy or bag
  • Towels (we bring beach towels)
  • Sunscreen and bug spray
  • Citronella candles
  • Camp chairs (or some kind of folding chair)
  • A multi-tool
  • Rain jackets for everyone
  • Optional: Hammock. You can hang it between 2 trees. The kids love them!
  • Flashlights and lanterns. I like a bunch of handheld flashlights, and then a lantern or two for on the picnic table or to hang in the tent. I also like a headlamp or two. Better than having to clench a flashlight in your teeth to cook in the dark!
  • If you are camping at an electric site: an extension cord and power strip.
  • If you are not at an electric site, battery packs, power banks, or other things like that are good to charge your phone.
  • Table cloth. I had a plastic one that ended up getting gross quickly, and if you rested your arms on it with sunscreen or bugspray on, it dissolved the color into your arm. So, I got 2 yards of marine vinyl from Joann for 70% off. $12 total! It’s nice and heavy, meant to withstand water and weather, and we will be able to reuse it for a long time.
  • 2 gallon expandable water carrier (We got this one at Cabela’s)
  • Dish basin

A quick note on dishes at a campsite. It took until our last 2 trips for me to develop a system I like. We use the expandable water carrier to bring 2 gallons back from the water spigot (there’s usually one every 3 campsites in state/national campgrounds.) I set the water carrier on the picnic table bench, and put the dish basin beneath it. I put a little Dawn in the basin and an inch of water. As people bring dishes over, I have them drop them in the soapy water. Then, when it’s time to wash dishses, I turn on the tap of the water carrier and start scrubbing, the water falls into the basin and keeps filling it. I set the clean dishes to dry on the table as I go. By the time I’ve gotten to the bottom of the stack of dishes, the water is about full. I dump it out and voila! I kept joking that I invented the sink and running water. Here is Everett demonstrating.

You can see our marine vinyl tablecloth in that picture and the clear plastic bins we use to transport all of our cookware, flashlights, tools etc.

What to bring for cooking and building a fire

  • A stove (we have this classic one from Coleman.)
  • Camp stove propane cannisters (2 cannisters got us through 6-8 days of camping)
  • Lighters (at least 2)
  • A set of pots and pans (we have this set from Kelty)
  • Plates, bowls, cups, silverware (Our Kelty set came with everything but the cups)
  • A cast iron skillet or 2 (we have a 12 inch and an 8 inch)
  • Cutting knives and cutting board (we have those thin ones)
  • Foil and a container for leftovers
  • A cooler
  • We have a Coleman water jug that we put ice water in. That way the kids can get cups of water at will. (Otherwise, they drive you crazy asking for drinks)
  • Dish washing liquid and sponge or scrub brush (my vote is a scrub brush because sponges tend to get nasty and stinky. The scrub brush we’re using came from my Dad’s camp set and it may 20 years old. Still works!)
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Pot holders
  • Spatula, slotted spoon, ladle
  • Can opener
  • fire starters
  • newspaper for fire starting
  • coffee cone and filters
  • insulated mugs for hot and cold bevvies
  • Marshmallow/hotdog roasting forks

What do we cook?

  • Breakfast: Oatmeal, eggs and bacon, cereal. My sister in law made breakfast burritos that were already assembled and we warmed them in the coals of the fire. Super good! You could also just make cereal.
  • Lunch or dinner: Grilled sandwiches, hot dogs, charcuterie (crackers, cheeses, meats, hummus, veggies), Camp chili (we made this on our last trip and it was delicious. We added ground beef), 3 ingredient mac n cheese with peas added, brats or hotdogs on the grill, grilled baby peppers or nectarines, burgers or steak, baked beans, grilled corn, there are lot of options!

We’ve also worked on our food box of items that aren’t really for any particular recipe, but are good to have:

  • Coffee
  • Olive oil
  • Vinegar
  • Cooking spray
  • Brown sugar
  • Shelf stable milks (preferably little ones so you only need to open what you need, like the Horizon kids’ milk boxes)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Hot sauce
  • Snacks for the kids (goldfish, fruit snacks, fruit cups, fruit strips, granola bars)
  • Mustard, ketchup (or a handful of ketchup packets)
  • Honey and/or maple syrup
  • A little mixed spice holder (Walmart sells this one)
  • Raisins, cranberries or other dried fruit
  • Walnuts, almonds, pecans

What we pack in our cooler:

  • Beers, small wine bottles or boxes, tequila in a mason jar (or the liquor of your choice)
  • Lacroix, cokes, etc.
  • Yogurt pouches for the kids, maybe also yogurt drinks
  • A variety of hand fruits
  • Carrot sticks
  • Hummus
  • Mayo
  • Cheese slices
  • Deli meats

You have to buy firewood from an authorized dealer or from within 10 miles of the park, so we do that on the way into the park or at a nearby gas station. If the park has an office that is open, they usually sell ice. We usually have to add a bag of ice to the cooler once a day. We have two coolers, one 40 qt one for drinks and a 52 qt one for food.

For the funs:

  • We bring everyone’s bikes. At least in Minnesota, there are awesome bike trails. The kids are often told to take off on their bikes around the campsite whenever they say they’re bored. Everett has a trailer that we bring and we go on family rides as well.
  • If your park is flat, roller skates/blades are as well
  • If you have room for them, lawn Jenga or lawn Farkle are really fun, and games of their ilk.
  • Sand toys or dirt play toys
  • Squirt guns
  • Friendship bracelet materials
  • Guitar or mandolin or other sing along instrument. Despite being a mandolin player, I haven’t brought mine on any trips. Mostly just tired and overwhelmed or busy. Ugh. Maybe next year.

We also had my sister-in-law’s mom make us a campsite sign!

You will also notice our car top carrier. That came out of my parents’ attic this summer and it was on our minivan in the 80’s! Super vintage and works great. We will keep that sucker going for as long as it will last.

There you can see our Klymit sleeping pads and Everett who slides way off his during the night! On our last night of camping, I saw him wake up and walk back to the pad and flop down with his sleeping back like a cape. Very cute.
Marshmallow roasting forks in action.
Hammock fun.
You can see our tent, a camp chair, and the camp stove in the top right.
The kids biking the road through the Willow River campgrounds.
Our car with the 4 bikes loaded on the back (Everett’s trailer is in the car top carrier.) We bought the Allen 4 bike rack that uses the tow hitch we had installed. Works great. We have two straps to hold the wheels secure during driving.

Tip: Look for second hand camping equipment. You can get some from family or friends, or at Goodwill or Facebook marketplace. 3 of our camp chairs, 2 of our sleeping bags, one of our coolers and our Coleman water jug came from a thrift store. Then, go to Sierra Trading Post. We bought our Suisse Sport Wyoming 8 person tent there. Originally $150, we got it for $90. They get closeouts and old seasons’ stuff for a great discount. Our Klymit pads and Kelty camp kitchen set came from them too at a great discount. After that, I recommend Walmart first (shocking, I know) and Target second. Walmart has a larger camping section. Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops also have some good stuff, but also guns, so decide on your comfort level. Of course there’s Amazon and the internet and stuff.

Tip: Before you pitch your tent, especially if you are doing it with a spouse or partner, each of you should do a shot of tequila. A little liquid sense of humor is always called for when pitching a tent.

Tip: your kids won’t fall asleep until the sun goes down. So, that’s their camping bedtime! But, I find that in the darkness of the woods, they fall asleep fast.

Okay, I’m sure I’ve forgotten something. And I don’t want to pass myself off as some kind of pro camper. We forget stuff and we lose our cool sometimes and make dumb decisions. But camping is fun and you can dive in and have fun.

Teaching, Travel

A Change of Scenery

I haven’t written in a while because life is absolutely batty, which I don’t even really need to say, I guess because we are all living it. It’s weird. Normally, you’d have to compose a blog post or a social media post about going through some stuff, and sorry that I’m absent. Ha. No explanation needed. We all understand.

But, I wanted to give you an update on our lives. I’m going to start doing some more blogging about my teaching and things I’m doing to survive my teaching. But first, a personal update.

Our school works with a team of filmmakers and they asked me if I would be interested in working with them. They dropped off tripods and steady cams and an iPhone at our apartment. We spent about a week documenting what our life was like, teaching online and raising 3 kids. The film team, The Filmistas, edited it into this amazing final product:

I got so many amazing messages from parents, students, and other teachers. I basically cried every time a message came in. Every time I watch the video I cry. I cry a lot.

About a week and a half ago, we got the call that our school would not be reopening during this school year. David and I had been talking about next steps. It’s so hard to know what next week will bring and how I will feel about it. There are about 100 scenarios of what might play out, and I’m never sure how I’m going to feel.

We happened to have the May Day holiday coming up, which gave us a 3 day weekend to travel. We got yelled at by doormen for letting our kids play in the sand below the roped off playgrounds in our condominium. We both realized it was time to go.

I felt some guilt about leaving. Staying was a point of pride at first. Maybe I shouldn’t have felt pride at staying, but I did. Deciding then to leave felt a bit like abandoning ship.

But my admin was really supportive. They understood and they knew that we needed to do what was right for us. That gave me some peace. Just the idea of being somewhere different suddenly sounded amazing.

We have a key factor in place for us to leave: a place to stay. We have a townhouse in Minnesota that technically belongs to my in laws, but we’ve made it ours for the summers. We spent nearly 3 weeks here last year, and we put bunkbeds in it, beefed up the kitchen stuff, stocked it with art supplies.

So now we are hunkered down in Northfield, Minnesota, an incredibly cute and cool college town. It’s small, it’s quiet, and there’s lots of open space. There are only 2 cases of COVID here as of my last reading, and the governor is making thoughtful, careful decisions–in my opinion, at least.

Brazil is also getting bad. The cases are rising, the deaths are rising. More scary to me is the number of people facing starvation because of the shut-down economy. The government is not providing significant support. There is a quarantine in place, where only essential businesses were supposed to be open, but right before we left, we noticed lots of businesses on the street open.

I don’t want to get into a whole big debate, but let me tell you where I always go first: the children. Bear with me while I explain. When you shut down all retail–all malls, bars, restaurants, stores, etc–that is a huge segment of the Brazilian population. They live hand to mouth. And they have children. What happens when the money and the food run out? If you want to keep the economy closed, then the government has to feed those kids. I don’t see that happening. (To be clear, I am not minimizing the death toll. I am just afraid of those other deaths, the children facing malnutrition.)

Okay, so, on Friday night, May 1, we flew out. We snagged a cheap upgrade to business class and jumped on it. Business class was full, but the seats are very separated. In coach, there were empty rows between passengers. The airports were ghost towns. There were maybe 40 people on our international flight, and 20 on our domestic flight.

As soon as we rented our car and got the house, our kids hopped on the bikes in the garage and went around the block. We walked to a playground that wasn’t roped off with caution tape. I almost cried watching them play.

I have more to say and more stories to tell, but I’ve got to go teach my 7th grade class via Zoom.

Signing off from the prairie,

Meg

Travel

The state of things, 2020

Now that we’re overseas, a traditional paper Christmas card was impossible. I’ll write this post instead and include photos that I might have put on a card.

2019 was our first full year in São Paulo, Brazil. We all felt more confident, our language skills grew, and our sense of direction improved (unless you’re me, in which case I’m always lost). I asked Calvin this year if he felt like Brazil was home. He looked at me like I’d asked him which farts he enjoys smelling the most. “Of course Brazil is home! Where else would be home?”

This is the kid, mind you, who was purposefully resisting his Portuguese classes at school because he thought we’d leave soon.

Matilda keeps asking if we’re Brazilian or American. She keeps repeating it to understand: “Are we Brazilian? No. We’re American ’cause we were born in Nashville.” But I can tell she’s wondering how Brazil fits into who we are and where we are from. As a kid who grew up overseas myself, that is not easy to answer and it will always be a challenge. Especially when she returns to the US for college. She won’t feel traditionally American, but she won’t be officially from any of the countries she’s lived in. It’s complicated.

We’ve just decided to move to a new apartment in our same building because everything started breaking, and our landlady has no interest in fixing anything. The landlord culture here is to just let your tenants make repairs. So we found a remodeled apartment a few floors down and we’re moving in early March! Hooray for a bigger kitchen and newer bathrooms. And hardwood floor pieces that don’t get stuck to your feet and pop out.

I have really enjoyed the return to teaching middle school. 7th grade is the hardest year of human existence, but there’s something rewarding about teaching them. Not sure I can even articulate why. They’re less jaded and guarded. They are super hyper and disorganized, but there’s something about their hearts being more open. There’s still a sense of wonder.

David is enjoying his computer science classes. It’s still his first year in this curriculum, so he gets frustrated as he learns and tweaks his teaching, but he’s enjoying the challenge. He is using an outside curriculum for his electives, but he’s realized he doesn’t love it and wants to go in his own direction next year. Year one is all about learning and growing.

Everett started a pre-school in our neighborhood this August. It’s a Brazilian school and his Portuguese has really blossomed. Colleagues from our school with a son his age also send their son there, so Everett has a buddy. He really likes his teacher and he’s happy. He goes there in the morning until noon, then comes home with our nanny.

2019 was the end of diapers for us! I could throw a ticker-tape parade! I got peed on last night, so it’s not perfect (it never is), but it’s such an improvement.

Everett will start at our school in the K3 program next August. It’s a half day, so he’ll ride to school with us in our car, then take the bus home at noon and our nanny will pick him up. Someone reminded me today that in our first year here we had one kid in school full day, one kid in half day, and one kid home with our nanny all day. Hard to notice that it’s hard when you’re so busy.

Matilda is learning to read and write in kindergarten and loves her teacher. We’ll be sad to say goodbye to Ms. Julia in June. Matilda has really enjoyed the Montessori program and I’m glad she’s had that experience.

Calvin is enjoying 2nd grade. He spends almost all of his free time after school reading books. He’d be playing Minecraft all day if we let him, but he gets some time on the weekends for video games. In the afterschool program, Calvin is doing some science and engineering classes, tennis, and piano in our apartment. Matilda takes tennis and piano as well, and she’s joined Calvin in the Mad Science class.

I helped coach the 2nd and 3rd grade swim team last semester. I enjoyed it, but I have a really hard teaching schedule, and losing those 2 hours after school each week was really pushing me to my limit. So, until next year, I bowed out. My plan is to return to coaching swimming next year when I go down to two different classes instead of three.

David helped with the Lower School musical last semester, which was fun for him. Similar to me, he struggled with losing that after school math help time with students, and the time to prep and grade. When our kids are older and off at their own activities, I hope that we can do more on campus after school. Right now, the evening shift of parenting is about all we can handle!

Our quality of life is very high living overseas. No place is perfect, but we are happy with what we our decision to make this leap. I will say that I’m grateful to work with an exceptional group of educators. They motivate me, they support me, they inspire me. I love being in an environment where everyone is working hard to teach kids in the best way possible. It’s intellectually stimulating and exciting. I feel like my talents are appreciated and my ideas are welcome. That’s a great feeling as an educator.

Brazil is great. The weather is amazing, the people are kind and friendly, and there are amazing travel opportunities. The food is delicious, the culture is active and healthy. Our condo has 4 pools, tennis courts and a restaurant. No place is perfect, but there are many wonderful benefits to living here. Are we still in our honeymoon phase with Brazil? Maybe. The fact that many teachers stay here at least 6 years is testament to the beauty and joy of this place.

I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the challenges. Unsweetened peanut butter takes some looking, kale is hard to find, as is breakfast sausage. Imported cheeses aren’t common and they’re very expensive. Plugs for the bathtub are super hard to find, the walls are hard to hang pictures on. It’s just little stuff. Potholes in the roads, traffic cameras that give you tickets. Socially, we’re still new in many ways, and making new friends and establishing bonds is hard. It’s hard as an adult anyway. But we’re working on finding our people, carving our niche, creating new routines.

The first semester living here was especially challenging and I took some time off of my own writing. However, as you may have seen in other posts, I’m finding a way to keep it a part of my life. Because my work life is demanding, I feel more grounded with regards to querying and pursuing publication. I can’t dwell on rejection or spin my wheels as much–no time!

If you’ve been thinking about visiting Brazil, we have a guest room and are happy to host. We recommend December/January because the weather is good and we’re off school. But early June or late July will catch us just after or before the school year. June and July are “winter” here, so you may need warm jammies and some sweaters and hoodies.

Here are some photos of our year.

Any given Wednedsay restaurant night.
Matilda
Goof ball
Juquei beach.
Juquei beach.
Sidewalk lunch in Buenos Aires
Botanical garden in Buenos Aires
Morro de São Paulo
Sunset walk in Morro de São Paulo
Morro de São Paulo
Any given Saturday at our condo pool
Travel

Vacating

Last weekend we spent 4 days at the beach. This Thursday, we are going to Buenos Aires for a 4 day weekend. 2 weeks after that, we are off to the beach in the Brazilian state of Bahia! It’s an embarrassment of vacations.

First off, let me share the pics from our beach vacation. We went to a beach called Juquei (or spelled Juquehy, I’ve seen it both ways.) If you drove to this beach on a Tuesday at, say, 10 am, it would take 2 hours and 45 minutes. Driving there on holiday long weekend, it took 7 hours. I looked at it this way: I pretended we were in Nashville and driving to Gulf Shores. That was 7 hours.

The beach was really pretty, the town was clean and had good food. The beach wasn’t super crowded and the waves were perfect for boogie boarding. Calvin really got into it, and Matilda was happy to jump on a wae as it rolled in. We rented a cute house one block from the beach that had a beautiful garden. Even with all of that, we probably won’t venture that drive again. I’d rather go to the pool in our condominium or fly somewhere!

Teaching, Travel

Re-signing for two more years

Last summer the most common question we got was, “Are you staying?”

The answer is yes! We signed a new 2 year extension of our contract. It’s odd because we signed in October even though we aren’t even through our second year. Decisions about hiring are made early in the international teaching world because orchestrating international moves means visas, translating documents, wading through multiple governments’ bureaucracies, and sometimes shipping belongings.

Calvin is in the 2nd grade now, and we’ve committed to staying until the end of his 4th grade year. In October of his 4th grade year, we will decide if we want to sign on again for 1 or 2 years, if we get offered those extensions.

We came into this thinking that we wanted to find a school where we could stay for 4-6 years, so it’s a good feeling to have that hope and expectation fulfilled.

I think that many people heard our plans and thought there was a pretty good chance we’d come back to the US after 2 years. Maybe I’m wrong in that assessment. For people who live in the US and always have, I think it sometimes gives them anxiety to hear about people who leave.

We’re in it. I don’t see an end date to our international teaching careers. I’ve met other teachers or expats in different professions who are eyeing a return. They feel the distance from family, the glitter has worn off, they are looking for a change. I completely understand that feeling. That may come for us eventually, but I can’t imagine it. With the ability to change up our whole life every 5-6 years, our love of change and novelty will always be satisfied.

What we have gained as a family make it hard for me to imagine returning to a life in the US. Our kids’ excellent education at the same school where we teach. The language learning that happens for them and us. The travel, the adventures, the experiences. I’m also really loving this community. I work with smart, funny, committed, wise, innovative teachers and admin. They’re seekers and risk takers, and I feel accepted and valued by them.

So, here we go!

Travel

Our Portuguese Videos

Calvin is having a bit of rough time in Portuguese classes. It’s hard for him to be the kid in the room that doesn’t understand, so he’s checking out.

He also said that he wants to be YouTuber. Sheesh, how does he know what a YouTuber is?

I came up with an idea that solves both problems. We started making YouTube videos of the kids teaching Portuguese. We’re focusing on things they are learning or know already. I think it’s already helping out with attitude and enthusiasm.

Here is our first video:

And here’s lesson #2

Lesson 3:

I will post our other videos in a separate post!

Teaching, Travel, Writing

A new year!

Teaching new curricula (3 of them this semester!) is kicking my butt, and writing on the blog has been super hard.

But, I want to say, hello.  I’m alive!  I’m here!

A student wrote me a very sweet email, and after I wrote my response, I thought it would make a good update on how I’m doing.  I’m pasting it here and adding one or two things.

 

I am good!  Life is crazy.  But not in a bad way.  In a full way, and in a way that means I make lots of mistakes.  I miss being an expert, being competent, knowing what the next day is going to look like in my class.  This has been so humbling, but in a good way.  I’m starting over, and it’s hard, but you start to realize what really matters or what you were missing in your old life.
The hard part has been writing.  For a variety of reasons, I’m taking a break.  One, I can’t take any more rejection.  I know I looked like I was handling it all so well, but the rejections really built up and I couldn’t do it any more.  Creative fields are so hard because there is 99% rejection in your responses.  I love being creative, but I lost connection with the creative part and was only focusing on the response I was getting.
Someone told me I had to write for myself, not for publication.  I only realize now that I wasn’t doing that.  I am trying to reconnect with me, and why I want to write.  Do I even want to write?  I’m trying to let go of it and see if it comes back.  Because I don’t know if I’m glad about how many hours I’ve given to rejection.  I don’t regret the writing, but the time I spent querying and then getting rejected so quickly, so dismissively.  If that’s what it takes, maybe that’s not what it’s about for me.
Ugh, I feel like I’m 22 again, trying to figure out what to do with myself.  If only you got the answer and then were done.  I wish!
I’ve been thinking about writing a lot.  But when I find my mind wandering into thinking about agents and querying and publishing, I stop myself.  I have to somehow write and separate it from publication.  I probably need to be less intense.  I can hear you laughing.  “Ya think?” I can hear you saying.
I guess what I’m trying to figure out is, what does it look like, being a teacher who writes on the side?
One thing I’ve been doing is exercising.  Between working and writing back in the US, I was not active, I didn’t exercise, and it was getting to an unhealthy level.  Our school here had a 3K Turkey Trot, and after that, I kept running.  I did a 5K in November and I have a 10K on February 3.  Running is easy, cheap, and a good workout for the time it takes.  I’m super slow and not awesome at it, but I’m enjoying doing it.  A writer I follow on Twitter said to remember that we are computers wrapped in meat and we need to keep the meat healthy to make the computer run.  I’m remembering that.
Brazil has been really good, though.  We are doing a unit on cultural norms and taboos with 7th graders and I have so much personal connection.  By seeing the norms and taboos here vs Nashville and Harpeth Hall is so illuminating.  I’m questioning things.  It’s not like Brazil is perfect, or Nashville is perfect.  But I can see the differences and the effects on people.  It’s also helpful for me to look at myself.
Teaching middle school has been awesome.  And also challenging, but in a way I like.  I have amazing colleagues who are smart and passionate and funny.
The kids are good.  It’s been a rough 6 months, but I only realized that now looking back.  I can see now that some things the kids were doing were because of the move, even though I didn’t see it at the time.  But, to be fair, it’s also hard to parent 3 kids, so this may have happened no matter where we lived.
For sure, though, I am so happy to have distance from US politics and news right now.  Every country has its share of bad news, but this break feels nice.  I don’t long to be back.  I’m not homesick.
Over the break my dad was asking me questions that all amounted to: Did you do the right thing, moving?  The answer is yes.  It took 6 months, but this feels more and more like home.  And I know that this was a good decision.
Travel

A word about driving in Sao Paulo

I think in many ways, driving here is one of the most memorable things about living in this city.  At least, it’s one of the first things I did after getting off the plane, so it’s rooted deep in my memories.

First, the motor boys.  “Motor Boys” is what everyone calls the guys (and sometimes women) who ride through the city on motorcycles.  They are mostly doing courier and delivery work.  They are the grease that keeps the entire system running her.  Seriously, they are a key part of the infrastructure of the city.  And the reason is that they do not obey the laws of the road.  They zip between cars, they weave between lanes, and ultimately it means they outsmart traffic.  I was once at a stop light and there were 7 Motor Boys lined up between my lane and the lane next to me.

Oh, and if you don’t leave a big enough gap at stop lights, they will honk at you or slap your car.  I’ve been in cars and had the driver back up and move over to make more space.  It’s the price we pay to get things delivered in an efficient and cheap way.  If regular cars did all of this work, it would triple the time because traffic is slow.

But damn if they don’t scare the shit out of you.  They go so fast, so close to other cars, and sometimes they going into the lanes of oncoming traffic!  They skirt within a few inches of your car, and I was warned that if I ever hit one, every Motor Boy in the vicinity will come to their aid, loaded with a lot of rage at the car who hit them.  They are a protected danger of the city.  We respect them and give them right of way, and in return, we can get documents and take out buzzed across the city at lightning speed.  At least they all wear helmets.

The other thing is the hills.  This city, and in particular the part of town where I live is so hilly.  I don’t think whatever you are imagining is hilly enough.  45 degree angles, I kid you not.  In the van that drove us around the first few weeks, I would have to close my eyes and clutch the seat in front of me as we stopped at a red light, the car clinging to a 40 degree hill.  I was certain gravity and rubber would fail us and we’d go tumbling down the hill.  It didn’t happen, though.

Next, the roads themselves are bumpy.  There are speed bumps everywhere, which do ensure that people don’t speed, but they are fat and steep.  Then there are drainage gutters carved into some streets across the intersection.  There are then the just plain old bumps from patches to pot holes.  It’s the bumpiest, hilliest, ride, watching Motor Boys fly past you.

Now that I’m driving, it’s even more challenging.  3 or 4 times I have driven the wrong way on a one way street.  There are tons of them and I’m so focused on not hitting Motor Boys and finding the right street or parking that I don’t notice the sign saying it’s a one way.

There are also roundabouts.  Of course there are.

The silver lining to all this is how nice Brazilian drivers are.  Because there isn’t always a clear right of way, people are just really nice and let you in.  You have to assert yourself, but as soon as you stick you nose out there, they just stop and let you go without any anger or frustration.  They know it’s a tough place to drive and left turns are tricky, so they just let you in.  The speeds are often quite low, too.  But, the first few days driving our car I was too afraid to poke my car into a lane to get in.  The cars were coming, they had a green light.  The expectation is that you will just jump into the flow, like double dutch.  I’m getting the hang of it.

This all comes back to a big observation I have of Brazilian culture.  They don’t get ruffled.  Long line at the hardware store and now that person wants to check the price of an item?  No one rolls their eyes or huffs.  Car just jumped into the lane in front of you?  It’s cool.  Baby screaming in a restaurant?  Babies are cute.  I didn’t realize until we got here how quick Americans are to get pissed that things are slow or crowded or inconvenient in any way.  Does whining about the long line you got in actually help?  Does sucking your teeth and sighing dramatically make things go faster?  No.  Maybe it’s what happens when a culture gets used to inefficiency and struggle.  But listen, it’s not like it’s any longer of a line than anywhere else.  It’s jus that people let things roll off way more.  It’s a good habit to pick up.

Again, forgive the rush and lack of editing.  I’m sure it’s filled with typos and incomplete thoughts.  It’s a necessity!  Consider this a first draft.

Travel

The first day in Brazil

There’s a lot to talk about in the day we landed in Brazil.  We left Cincinnati at night on July 20, and arrived in the morning on July 21.  We had 21 checked bags and a handful of carryon luggage.

When we walked off the plane, Matilda asked, “Is this Brazil?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Where my room?” she asked.

I have to explain.  Part of us getting the kids excited about what was coming was telling them that when we got to Brazil, we’d go to our new apartment and pick our bedrooms.  This is how we answered questions about where we were going to live.  We picked our apartment from photos and videos sent to our emails.  We had never set foot in our apartment.  And there’s only so much you can see from photos in a rental listing.

What Matilda heard was that the plane would drop us straight at our apartment building, like a door-to-door bus service.  If only.

We had to walk through the airport and go through customs.  David had Everett’s carseat strapped to his backpack like a giant turtle shell, and we pushed Everett in the stroller.  Or maybe Everett was in the Ergo and Matilda was in the stroller?  I can’t exactly remember.  We did that a lot on the US side of our trip.  Keeping Everett close and calm in the Ergo was a life saver.

The line for customs took a while, but went smoothly.  Then we had to walk to baggage claim.  So, the thing about 21 bags is you have to get them out of the airport.  Even if David and I each pushed a cart, there’s no way we could get 21 bags on two carts.

I found a few other teachers who were also flying in (all the teachers arrive on the same day) and just having someone that was connected to us was reassuring.  None of them had as many bags as we did.  Portuguese to the rescue!  I found some guys who worked for the airport and explained that we had a ton of suitcases and needed help wheeling them out of the baggage claim area and into the terminal.  The admin of the school would be on the other side waiting for us with vans and lots of extra hands.

The airport guys lashed together 2 or 3 carts of suitcases and we each pushed one and somehow we got it all out of the baggage claim.  Seeing the school admin and other employees just outside the door wearing school shirts and smiling was a really amazing feeling.

It was a blur of introductions and meeting all kinds of people that I had skyped with or perhaps never heard of.  Our bags were labeled and taken off to be delivered to our apartment later that day.  We had also arrived with another family who had a 2 year old, so it was decided that the families with kids could go ahead and board vans bound for school.

I have to stop and write a little bit about the van ride across Sao Paulo.  It was Saturday, but the drive still took about an hour, or maybe even a little more.  The kids had made friends with various grown ups, Everett was in his carseat, but no one slept.  Looking out the windows, my eyes were full to the brim.  Super high apartment buildings and office buildings, crowded highways, graffiti, guys on motorcycles zipping through traffic.  Bridges, almost-dry riverbeds, opulence and poverty.  We saw it all through the tinted van windows.

My attention bounced between the kids, new teachers also arriving, admin getting to know us and welcoming us.  It was chaotic but ebullient.

The vans pulled into the school and we got our first look.  First impressions: very little of the school was indoors (“Did you know my school’s hallways have no walls?” Calvin said a few weeks ago.  “In Nashville my school had walls in the hallways.”) The boundary between school and nature was thin.  “Nature” was relative in a city of 25 million, but there were palm trees and flowering trees and all kinds of shrubs and flowers I had never seen and they were just a step beyond paved walkways and classroom doors.

The school was labrynthine and twisty, with pockets of order.  A lot like the neighborhood around it with streets at all kinds of angles, punctuated by rectangular apartment buildings.

Brutalist architecture, lots of concrete and straight lines, but a lot of construction happening.  An architect once told me you can tell the health of a city by the number of cranes on the skyline.  Constructions a good sign of growth and change.

There was lunch in the cafeteria and 7 or 8 stations to stop in to sign documents, fill out forms, get our start-up cash, and learn about health insurance.  I signed my name 50 or 60 times and collected tons of papers, and tried to remember the details of the kids’ bus schedules.

Meanwhile, the kids were amped up on exhaustion and adrenaline and were crawling around the floor and cackling like happy banshees.  Parents reading this will know the anxiety with which I viewed this scene, knowing that any second that joyful, screeching laughter could become an epic melt down.  We need to get these kids indoors and near a bed, stat.

There was a make-shift grocery store set up for us as well, and we loaded 4 tote bags up with basic groceries.  At about 1 pm, a van drove our exhausted, bedraggled family to our long-awaited apartment so we could choose our bedrooms.

 

Again, didn’t edit this or even re-read.  “No time!” the White Rabbit exclaimed.

Travel

I’m here! I’m alive! I’m sorry I haven’t been posting.

I had such grand designs of writing about our arrival.  Then the actual arrival came and it’s been a whirlwind.  I haven’t had any time to sit down and reflect–much to my dismay.

There is so much I want to say and record.

Then I remember Anne Lamott’s one inch picture frame.

So here’s what I can see through a one inch picture frame when I think about flying to Brazil with 3 small children:

On the flight from Cincinnati to Newark we realized we had left their tablets back at my parents’ house.  This was a major blow, akin to Oedipus’s tragic fall.  In our packing hubris, we forgot to get the tablets.  The kids cried.  We gave them our phones.  All was well in the land of 21st century problems.

Matilda fell asleep in the stroller in our layover in Newark.  This was a blessing to all because she was becoming insanely tired and cranky.  When we boarded our flight from Newark to Brazil, I looked back as we walked dow the aisle and couldn’t find Matilda.  Calvin ran back and found her curled up on one of the first seats, asleep again.  She was so tired she decided to plunk down on the first available seat.  It’s hard to explain to an sleepy 3 year old that we have assigned seats and those aren’t them.  We finally got her to our row and she fell back to sleep on my lap.

Everett, on the other hand, was wide awake.  At 10 pm.  This is a kid who goes to bed at 7:30 every night.  We strapped him into his carseat for take off, he was super tired.  But there was a delayed connecting flight, so we had to wait take off until those passengers arrived.  All that kid wanted was to sleep, but all the lights were still on in the cabin.  He cried and cried.

10 seconds after take off, he fell asleep.  He slept most of the night.  Calvin and Matilda slept curled up like kittens on our row of three.  They slept on me, on the window, on each other.  Restless kittens is more accurate.  Pigs in a barn?  Not sure the right simile.

I got about 90 minutes.  Too much responsibility and dry airplane air.

We landed.  We survived.  We were tired.

Okay, that’s all I got.  I didn’t proofread (no time, don’t judge).