Friday, November 30, 2007

Language learning!

I realized today that I haven't shared much about our language language, and since that's why we're here in Brazil, it's obviously a huge part of what we are doing.

I have to say that already having learned French has made learning Portuguese much easier. (Note I didn't say easy, but easier!) I already understand the process of language learning, the parts of speech, and things that are different from English like masculine and feminine nouns.

You might remember that I was very concerned to learn on my first day of class that my teacher, Maria, doesn't speak English. In the end, though, this has been a huge blessing, because I'm forced to speak (or at least try to speak) Portuguese. I also have realized that with my English, French, and some Spanish, I recognize a lot of the Portuguese words. Another big help. (Though this is hard on my pronunciation!)

Scott goes to class for three hours every morning. We eat lunch together, then I head off for class for two hours. The kids are now taking two hours every afternoon, and after a week, they still seem to be enjoying it!

Now so you don't think that life is all work and no play, we have incorporated a few fun things into our life. We play Mexican Train together every night during dinner (a domino game) and have had a lot of fun with it. Today we joined a nearby swim club so the kids can now swim everyday after school. They are so excited! For some reason they think this is a more enjoyable exercise than walking home from the grocery store with an armload of groceries.

We're also going to some friends' house tonight. They're Americans so we will be speaking only English! (Sorry, but a girl does need a break every now and then!)We are also planning to take the bus out to the mall in the next couple of weeks and go bowling. A neat observation I've made is how our family is growing closer through all of this. We've embarked on this huge adventure together, and I love seeing the kids work together, play together, and enjoy being together. (They're still kids, so not all of the time, of course :-))

Today being Friday, I'm tired and my brain is overloaded, but walking home from class, I felt like things were beginning to come together. Language is like a big puzzle, in some ways, and I'm excited to see some of the pieces come together and to feel as if I can actually say something! My teacher left the room today with her cell phone and told me to call her and invite her over for lunch as an exercise. Yikes! I thought, there is no way I can do it, but I did! She walked back into our class room after I hung up and gave me a big thumbs up! I felt as if I'd just completed the Boston Marathon!

So after three weeks of class, I'm feeling good today. The past two Fridays I was so tired I thought I was getting sick. But God is good and continues to give us what we need for each day.



P.S. Please ignore any grammatical problems with my posts. These are to be expected when you spend hours a day studying a new language, another few hours a day writing in English, and yet another few hours a day teaching your six-year-old English phonetics which are completely different from Portuguese phonetics!

Maria and I

Scott and Gabriel studying together.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Settling in. . .

I'm finally feeling settled in. . .well, sort of. I was walking the mile or so to school this morning, engrossed in people watching, something I love to do. A few minutes later, I looked up and realized I had no idea where I was. I'd been so deep in thought I forgot to pay attention where I was going! Such is the life of a writer, I suppose! I'm always viewing people as possible characters for my books, something my teacher thought was very humorous.

Speaking of books, here's a chance to win a FREE copy of my latest book, A Matter of Trust? Visit author Amber Miller's website. She recently interviewed me and is offering a chance to win a copy of the book.

Besides the distractions, I really am feeling more settled. Home schooling's moving along, and the kids have started taking Portuguese classes in the afternoon with two other children from Switzerland who just arrived in the country a week after we did. They are really enjoying it--note the photo above. Scott's taken over a lot of the housework so I can write and study, and even the kids have their assigned jobs to do around the house to ease my load.

I must be making some progress in the language, because going to the butcher to buy chicken or to the bakery to buy bread is now a feasible task! It's funny how things like asking for a few loaves of bread can make me feel like a toddler again!

I forgot to mention that last weekend, we had our first guests over for dinner and enjoyed visiting with Mel and Mandy. It's always amazing to me how God brings people together. Mel and Mandy are single women from England who are here to study Portuguese on their way to Mozambique! They are leaving Brazil this weekend, but will be living about three hours from us in Mozambique.

Enjoy today!


Monday, November 26, 2007

From the mouth of babes. . .

It’s become a juggling act. Home schooling, language learning, book deadlines, and housework. Sometimes I feel as if I’ve been thrown into the spin cycle of a washing machine that’s off balance.

I knew these six months would be tough, and trust me, they are. Extremely. And wouldn’t you know, when I begin to lose perspective of why I’m here, it’s my children who manage to teach me what’s really important in life.

It was school time. A time that’s new for all of us. Mommy’s the teacher now. The kids have a new school room. Even the books are new and even exciting. Most of the time anyway. Still, it’s been a tough week. The excitement of the move is over and the realization that we now live thousands of mile from our friends and pets has begun to sink in.

On Friday, Mariah was tired of school and wanting to return to South Africa. She was frustrated with me, and I was even more frustrated with her. I wanted to scream, but she was crying. It was one of those Oh Lord, give me patience NOW moments!

I went back to my desk to give her some space, and in realty to give myself some space. I couldn’t help but wonder again what I’d gotten myself into. Why in the world did I ever think that I can teach three precious kids about science, parts of speech, and mathematics? All while trying to learn another language, meet editor deadlines, and manage to keep my house fairly clean.

That’s when the lesson came. While I was whining to myself--and to God--Gabriel walked over to his sister, put his hand on her shoulder and told her he was going to pray for her. Which is exactly what he began doing. I couldn’t hear what he said, but that didn’t matter. His gentle, love spirit reminded me what was important in life.

Family. . .Relationships. . .Patience. . .Forgiveness. . .

And I was humbled.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the moment. To get mad at the checkout clerk who’s too slow, the accountant who made a mistake on our bill, or the child who didn't make their bed.

When all they might need is a kind word, an act of kindness, a forgiving heart, a second chance.

Didn't Jesus himself gave each one of us a second chance for eternal life when he gave us his own life?



Christmas in Brazil is in the air!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Pass the salt please. . .

I've always considered myself a fairly good cook. I love trying new recipes, especially ones from other countries. Sometimes, though I tend to be a bit too adventurous. Like today for example. We were invited to spend Thanksgiving with a group of Americans Scott met at our school and they asked me to bring a desert.

Now I was a bit nervous about baking something. I may know how to cook, but with few pans and different ingredients, it can be a challenge to say the least. So I had to decide what to take to this afternoon and being me, decided something a bit.. .adventurous.

A very popular sweet here is called Beijo Do Coco Da Bahia (don't quote me on that) or coconut balls. I made some last night to see how they tasted. They looked awful, tasted great, but looked more like macaroons. Not what I wanted. So I searched on line for another recipe. This one with condensed milk, a very popular ingredient. I decided on chocolate balls and coconut balls.

The chocolate balls came out sticky. Very sticky. But I managed to roll them in chocolate powder, then put them in the small papers.

The coconut balls took less time to cook, but were sticky as well, so I jumped back on line and after doing some research added a cup of sugar. This worked great. Or so I thought.

I took a small bite to see how it tasted and gagged. Wait a minute. How can you go wrong with sweetened condensed milk, sugar and coconut?

Obviously you can go wrong. . .very wrong. I checked the sugar bowl for the culprit and sure enough. The bowl was filled with salt!

Thankfully, I'd only added the salt to half the recipe, so I was able to salvage the rest with sugar.

So for today, may each of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Remember to thank God for the ways He's blessed you this year. He is so good.



To make your own coconut balls here's the recipe.

14 oz sweetened condensed milk
1 C coconut
1 C sugar
up to a half a stick of butter.

Cook in a heavy pot for several minutes, stirring constantly. Allow to cool. Form into small balls. Roll the balls in coconut, place in a small muffin paper, then add one clove in the top of each. (This is for flavor, don't eat)


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Move over Richard Simmons. . .

. . .there’s a new exercise program in town!

With Thanksgiving and the holidays around the corner, I thought it would be the perfect time to talk about exercise. And I’ve found the perfect solution to your weight gain woes. All you have to do is move to Brazil, or some other country you’re unfamiliar with. (This can be done in your own country of origin at your own risk.)

Here are a few highlights of the program.

1. Get rid of that car. Walking everywhere is the perfect remedy to staying fit. Frequently getting lost will add even more time to the daily workout.

2. Grocery shop two or three times a week. With no car you have to walk to the store and carry what you purchase, which means you will have to go more often. Forget lifting weights. Carrying a few bags of eggs, fresh pineapples, and canned goods home will do the trick.

3. Get rid of the vacuum cleaner. Need to tone those floppy underarms? Thirty minutes a day of sweeping the carpet with a firm broom should do the trick.

4. No more dryer. It has recently been proven that hanging clothes on the line is just as effective as over-the-head free weights.

5. Make sure you choose a country with high humidity. You can lose several pounds a week just on water from all the sweating.

6. Try and avoid visits to the bakery. (see, we're not suffering too much!)

Enjoy the photos of our new town! Interclass is where we attend school.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

There's a foot in my stew. . .

. . .and other mysterious things.

Have you ever watched one of those commercials for fabric softener where the white sheets are billowing in the afternoon breeze in front of a row of daisies? You can almost smell the floral scent of the soft fabric as the sun warms the soft laundry.

Okay, hold on just a minute.

Have you actually ever washed your laundry and hung it out on a line to dry? Trust me, the producers of those commercials have never line dried their clothes before. They come out more like sandpaper than a fluffy bunny’s tail.

And here’s another odd thing I recently discovered here. Food packages should be marked buyer beware, because what you see on the package isn’t necessarily what’s inside.

Take for instance, the sausage I recently bought so I could make some beans and rice. I opened the bag, which had a yummy looking photo of beans, rice, and sausage on the outside. Now my Portuguese isn’t good yet, but I did understand that the package didn’t include the beans. That was fine. So, what was the first thing I pulled out? A half a pigs foot!

Now wait a minute. I don’t remember seeing that on the picture! Another peek into the bag reviled some normal looking sausage, but by now I was worried. Especially when I pulled yet another strange piece of meat. Scott asked me what it was.

“A large flap of skin?” I volunteer.

He laughs. I don’t.

“No,” he tells me, “it’s a pig’s ear!”

You can guess what didn’t make it into the pot that night!

So we've made it though our first week of in Brazil, started language school (no English!!), started homeschooling, managed to find the grocery store and Pizza Hut, and everyone is still smiling. The kids are doing fantastic, which is a real answer to prayer. I can't thank you enough for your prayers and emails. We're still having email problems, but I'll post as often as I can.

Coming next. . .move over Richard Simons, there’s a new exercise program in town!



Sunday, November 11, 2007

Moving in. . .


After a restless night of squealing breaks, loud music that seemed to rock the walls of our house, and dogs barking, I was awake at four, up by five, deciding I might as well catch up on some of my writing. Love the jet lag!

I’m almost done with my December deadline, a romantic suspense that deals with internet scams, but have had little time to write the past two weeks. If I write a thousand words a day I can finish it by next weekend, so that’s my goal. Waking up early might not be so bad after all.

It’s been raining a lot here, canceling our plans to walk to the park. So far, though, I don’t miss having a car. It’s been nice to walk around the neighborhood and explore. So while Scott waited for the man who was coming to install our internet, I made my first solo outing to the grocery store with Gabriel. I walked through the aisles slowly, trying to see what things I missed the time before, feeling very nervous about checking out. As we got to the last aisle I glanced down at my cart. It was half full of food and kitchen items we needed, and at that point, I realized that we had to walk home!

Ever the optimist, I decided we could carry it all home. Or so I hoped. I got to the check out area and scoped out the nicest looking clerk. I greeted her in Portuguese and she, of course, started chatting. Somehow I managed to communicate that I don’t speak the language and no, Gabriel was not my interpreter. I handed her my credit card and showed her my ID when asked. So far so good. Well sort of. I have this terrible habit of freezing up with languages, but when I was finished, I was determined to use my little Portuguese and say thank you. At that moment, though, I could have said thank you in French, Eve, Afrikaans, but not Portuguese. Oh, the joys of language learning!

(In the end, I was able to say good-bye, and yes, funny sight that it must have been, we made it home with all our bags!)


It’s been a long but good day. We called a friend of our co-worker, Bia, who used to live in the neighborhood we’re at now, asking her if she knew of any churches in our area. We ended up going to hers this evening and enjoyed it so much. The Brazilian people are so warm and welcoming. Even the kids jumped in and went to class and made some friends.

It's been exciting to watch the kids. Gabriel especially has not been keen on learning another language. His experience learning Afrikaans wasn't very positive, so we were worried that he wouldn't try while he was here. Instead, the exact opposite has happened. He's always asking how to say something, or telling me a word he learned, and even using the few words that he knows.

Tomorrow we start back to school with the kids, and it's late here, so I'll save another experience--There’s a foot in my stew--for tomorrow!

Below are some photos of our house. We brought comforters for the kids beds and posters for their walls, so they could feel more at home.



Saturday, November 10, 2007

First Impressions

Internet is finally up! Here's a look at our last two days.


After a long, ten hour trip, we arrived in an overcast, balmy Sao Paulo, Brazil. Over a dozen big screen TV’s greeted us, ensuring no one in the passport control line, security, or those waiting for passengers missed a minute of the live soccer broadcast.

Our ride arrived in a 16 passenger van, plenty room for the five of us and our ten suitcases. This is my first time in South America, and I have to say, I had no idea what to expect. One of the first things we passed, surprisingly enough, was a Sam’s Club and Walmart. But beyond that, the poverty surrounding us surprised me. As we sped down the freeway, it reminded me more of the South African squatter camps than your local Walmart neighborhood. Dozens and dozens of shacks lay stacked on top of each other on the hillsides, the population, dense. Beyond that laid contrasting beautiful areas of vast green forests with mist suspended in the valleys.

We stopped for dinner at a fast food restaurant, which only continued to remind me how little I know here. Everything is a new experience, leaving me feeling like an uneducated toddler who has to be taken from place to place. From buying things with an electronic card they hand you at the door, to ordering dinner--each step becomes a monumental task. I know how to say good-day and thank you. Beyond that, it’s a helpless feeling that leaves me in a panic when anyone addresses me.

The kids have done incredibly well today, and we arrived at our new home happy, but exhausted. The wife of the director of the school we are to attend met us with the key to the house, a pot of flowers, and food for breakfast in the fridge. That’s a real blessing considering my kids are going to wake up hungry and I don’t know where the closest store is. Quickly dragging the few essentials from the suitcases, we crash around ten o’clock--two in the morning South Africa--to the sound of cars zooming by, dogs barking, and the fan buzzing as it blew away the heat.


With our body clocks off, we were all up by five-thirty, but with ten suitcases to unpack, and a village (as they call it here) to explore, there’s plenty to do. The house is large and breezy, three bedrooms upstairs, two living areas downstairs. Knowing we were going to home school, I brought the kids books, hoping we’d have a place for them to work. God is amazing. There’s not a lot of furniture in this house, but there are five desks. Yes, five! I’d call that a miracle.

So this morning we unpacked the suitcases, then began rearranging the furniture. We moved four of the desks into the small living area, along with a wooden shelf from the kitchen and we have a school room! I couldn’t have asked for a better situation. And the kids are already begging for school to start. Let’s hope that continues.

With our things pretty much unpacked, we head out to explore the neighborhood. The director of the school had already graciously stopped by to give us a map as well as pointed out a number of places. The first place we head to is lunch--Pizza Hut. We were all excited as this isn’t something we have in South Africa. Next we walked down the street to a supermarket (our only transport is our feet from now on!) and went down the aisle, one by one, to see what’s available.

My impressions today:

1. The people here are incredibly friendly. We have been so blessed with both the school and the owner of our rental house going out of their way to help us as we get set up here.

2. We discovered that food is very expensive. Surprisingly, meat isn’t bad, but most other things are.

Small jar of Jelly: $4
Cereal: $5
Maple Syrup: $24 (Thankfully, I make my own syrup!)
Milk: $4 gallon
8 tortillas: $8

I thought packaging was small in South Africa compared to the states, but things are even smaller here. The cereal boxes are probably a third of what you’d buy in the states, and I don’t think there are more than a dozen to choose from.

No peanut butter on the shelves. No macaroni and cheese. I’m struggling to figure out what to cook. I went through my recipe book and came up with nothing. I feel as if they have much less available here than South Africa which surprises me, but it’s all a matter of figuring out what is available, something that will take time. They do have wonderful bakeries (still need to go to one) and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. We went to one fruit and vegetable store I really liked with a wonderful selection that isn’t too far from our house. Tomorrow we will go to a weekly vegetable and fruit market that’s held on one of the streets to see what we can get.

3. One of the biggest things for me to get used to is the fact that you can’t put the toilet paper in the toilet. Instead you use a small trash can. Scott says that at least people won't go through our trash here like they do in Africa.

4. No hot water in the house except for the shower that uses a heater to heat the water as you run it. This means water to wash dishes must be boiled on the gas stove first.

Tomorrow. . .photos of our new house and more on adjusting to Brazil.



Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Final Snapshots

Standing outside in the late night air, crickets chirp, frogs croak. An unexpected summer rain comes quickly, showering the already green grass with moisture.

So this is it. One last day amid palm trees, banana plantations, and the bright blue African sky. One last day hearing the buzz of voices walk past the house, early misty mornings, and the colorful array of flowers dotting the countryside.

For now.

The prayers and encouragement from friends from both sides of the vast Atlantic have overwhelmed us, comforted us, and humbled us. God’s miracles have surrounded us like a shield, covered us with His grace, and reminded us that the journey we’re about to embark on is worth it.

Hold onto Him who is able to do more than we are even able to imagine.

(Internet is too slow for my final photo snapshots.)



Sunday, November 04, 2007

Day to Rejoice

We had a special day of rejoicing on this side of the world. Gabriel and Mariah were baptized after church, committing their lives to God! We invited some of our friends to join in the celebration and enjoyed eating together.

Enjoy the slide show!


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Saturday, November 03, 2007

The countdown begins!

We're down to five days until the big move. I'm not sure that the reality of where we're going has really sunk in. There are moments of excitement and moments of tears, but overall, I'm ready to go. Living in Allen and Janelle's guest flat has worked out perfect for this last week, but I'm ready to get settled in to our new home in Brazil.

I've spent the past two days trying to decide what to take and packing our suitcases. Have I mentioned how much I hate to pack? The good thing is that for the most part, will finish tonight.

God also continues to answer prayers. We found a home for all our pets which was a major concern. Our indoor dog (the last to find a home) and cat, who are also best friends, will be staying with the new owners of our house who have an eight year old boy. And we sold our car today which is a major blessing! We are having to replace it with a sturdier car from Mozambique that we've already found and will pick up once we are back in Africa.

We have one last special event planned before we go, but I'll share that in the next day or two.

Time to finish packing. A storm's coming which means the power is bound to go off as well. One of the things we are planning is time back in South Africa from time to time so the kids can keep up with their friends. It's nice not to have to say good-bye for forever. Enjoy the slide show.



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