One of the things that I’m really good at is planning and scheduling. Having a daily “routine” as is popularly thought of really helps me out. I try to be as efficient as possible in everything that I do, so having a schedule that keeps my days full of the important stuff as well as the stuff that just needs doing is key. I touched a little on this in my priorities post.

I often have to rethink and revamp my day as my kids get older or our situation changes. Getting back to Brazil after the holidays has been one of those times. After making an awesome countdown calendar I put together the puzzle that will be our life for the next 52 days (yes, we’re counting).

The things I have to fit into each day are:

  • meals and the time to prepare them
  • Greg getting to work on time and getting home before dinner
  • chores
  • naps
  • snacks
  • outside playtime before the daily afternoon rain
  • exercise/shower time for mom
  • learning time
  • baths
  • stories
  • bedtimes
  • nursing

Now it looks like our day is mighty full, but we have some good chunks of free time and those are essential. Without those, the “schedule” starts to feel restrictive and suffocating.

What are the necessary parts of your day?

A Devastating Discovery for my Diet

I like predictability. In my toddler driven and what seems like an uncontrollable life, the more that is the same everyday the better. I can truly autopilot most things and good nutrition is important to me. I literally eat the same thing for breakfast every morning and don’t tire of it.

The title of this post is pretty misleading because in reality, I don’t diet. My motto when it comes to food is everything in moderation. If I want to eat a pint of ice cream in one sitting, I will; if I want to have a kale salad for lunch, I will. I just don’t go to either extreme on a regular basis. Right, so eating a pint of ice cream in one sitting is not at all moderate….but, over the course of time it can be because I only do that on very rare occasions-like when I’m pregnant and couch surfing for four months while my husband goes back and forth between California and Brazil.

ANYWAY…on to my discovery of SWEET POPCORN!

Here in Manaus, popcorn is an easy to come by snack food that isn’t all that expensive. We eat it fairly often and finding new ways to change it up is always welcome. We’re partial to the old standby of just a little salt, or grating fresh Parmesan cheese on top. Especially because it’s easy…but this, THIS is delicious and great when you don’t have much else in the house but need to cure a sweet tooth (of which I have many).

sweet popcorn


As a parent today we have information coming at us from all sides…and where it comes from is unfortunately geared toward using scare tactics to get our attention. Books, blogs, news, etc. all feed on our mommy guilt to get us to do their bidding; whether it be buying organic or sleep training or breastfeeding.

Mommy guilt is real. It’s alive and well without any of the agenda pushing media surrounding us. I can feel badly about speaking too harshly on a tired morning before my coffee cup has been drained (and refilled and drained again) just as easily without reading about why authoritarian (drill-sergeant) parenting doesn’t work.

I have tearfully apologized to sleepy heads more times than I care to admit for yelling or being grumpy during the day and they always forgive me with hugs and kisses and love. Just yesterday, L even asked me if I was grumpy. BOOM-mommy guilt. It’s so easy to regret and get down on yourself. I find myself wishing and trying and reading myself into being a better mom constantly. Just in the last four months I’ve read 5 or 6 parenting books. Maybe everyone tries to get better at their careers (yes, motherhood is my career) by reading self-improvement books in their late twenties…but there’s a downside to information overload. When you keep reading all the things you SHOULD be doing, it’s really easy to see all the things you’re doing wrong.

But really…this parenting thing…no one knows how to do it right. The more I learn and the more I do, the more I realize that everyone is just flying by the seat of their pants and we all kind of figure it out as we  go. Sure, there are tried and tested and psychologically sound ways to discipline and teach our kids, but we have to just do what works and if it’s not working, change it. Going through your days and continuing on in the same way that makes you regret it all is some sort of insanity. I have to constantly remind myself not to dwell on what I’m doing wrong, but apologize if I mess up, move on, and try to do better the next time. Isn’t that how we want our kids to behave anyway?

Finding Solitude

Today I saw a T-shirt that said “choose hope over fear.” It caught my eye because my name was all sparkly and walking down the sidewalk. I didn’t realize it was an Obama slogan. It’s interesting the different things HOPE can stand for and it’s a powerful thing, isn’t it?

I’ve recently decided to stop complaining in an effort to change my thinking. In a place where I feel like an unwelcome outsider, I have found that I must cling to the positives and encourage happiness in everything. It’s why I write one thing in my gratitude journal everyday all year long (and not just during November on Facebook). It’s all terribly difficult, but the tiny glimmer of hope is an essential part of staying on the wire above despair when you’ve already fallen into the pit before.

When you’re trying to walk the balance beam (gymnasts aside) you hold your arms out to increase your moment of inertia. Getting in alone time can be immensely helpful when warding off depression and trying to stay happy. Being a stay at home mom can be a lonely business, but are you ever really alone? It’s so important to carve out time for yourself everyday, but when?

Here are a few ways I find solitude:

  • On the drive home from dropping off Greg I get to listen to all the uncensored American music I want
  • During nap time I get to write this blog
  • After the kids go to bed I get to read in the hammock outside

How do you find solitude?

My Brother

Alexis is how she was born. When my children were born she, who identified as a he, became yeah-yeah. I don’t exactly remember how, but the non-gender-specific name was helpful as my children grew. I could pretty much avoid the subject. Was that a cruel way to deal with something I had no idea how to deal with? Avoiding it?

Top Surgery

When she had an optional double mastectomy it was time for me, our Mom, and everyone else to get serious about identifying her as he truly felt on the inside.


Alex got married to Chelle (I was totally there) and it was a beautiful showing of love.

I was totally there

Now in order to truly become more of a man, he is taking testosterone. I was kindly “warned” about this fact, but I don’t think I reacted in quite the right way. Had we been without video, there may have been one of those long awkward pauses…good thing I just made a “I have no idea what to say” face instead. That’s way better…

My mouth hasn’t quite caught up with my heart or my brain. I find myself starting to say her, she, and “seestor” but then another one of those long awkward pauses comes out. I love my sibling (there I go again…) no matter what; that isn’t going to change. I know how I feel, but it matters what comes out of my mouth, too. It matters to him and I’m sorry if it takes a little while for my mouth to catch up.

Manauaran Logistics

I will be the first to admit that I am hopelessly addicted to and in love with the good old U.S.A. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I believe ‘Merica to be THE best place on earth. It is the land of opportunity and totally understandable that most people want to be a part of it. There are conveniences beyond what’s convenient and choice enough to make you dizzy. Even the infrastructure makes life better there.

In Manaus, a simple trip to the pediatrician involves a call (with lots of “desculpa‘s” and “não entendo‘s”), a (dangerous & confusing) drive, parking (more on that later), remembering all the passports and vaccine cards, paying about the equivalent of $150 to get our name on a list and hoping the Dr. has time to see us before it’s time for a meal or nap. Luckily, this Dr. speaks some English. Medical issues can EASILY be lost in translation. Weight is in kilograms and height is in centimeters. Vaccines and medicines are different here. If a sickness warrants a prescription I have to go to a drogaria and hope they have it there and can read the Dr’s writing. Not to mention I have to figure out the dosing regimen and also determine if I even want to give my kids the medicine. It appears that everyone here takes a certain drug every year as a preventative measure against becoming paralyzed. Is it obvious that I’m missing something on that one? When I was pregnant with M & planning on having her here I was told I needed to get a vaccine that upon further investigation appeared to prevent muscular contractions. Ummm…don’t I need those to have the baby?

Driving is another big source of stress. Let’s start with the roads. Think of a pothole that you and two of your friends could lay down in and still not be at road level. Now drive over or around that while dodging 10 other potholes that M could lay down in as well as other cars and pedestrians. There is no rhyme or reason to the roads either. Some are one way, some are not. Some roads should be one way due to the width, but aren’t and others are four “lanes” all going in the same direction with a divider in the middle. There are many “balls” or roundabouts and almost no left turns. Things change often. Maps don’t help much because street names and directions of streets change all the time, without warning. There are many interesting intersections and almost no lines painted on the roads. Signals are many times placed on the wrong side of the road so if you’re in front of the line you can’t actually see when it turns.

20131002-IMG_9399 20131002-IMG_9403

The drivers themselves only add to the chaos. Having my children learn to drive here fills my nightmares. There are rules, but they are not followed. Anything goes, really. Is there nothing happening while you sit at the red light? Go on through…if you don’t, you’ll get honked at. Feel free to drive into oncoming traffic to avoid potholes or go around someone that is too slow as well. My personal motto while driving is “Be aggressive! B-E aggressive!” because if you aren’t, you will be eaten alive.

20131002-IMG_9401 20131002-IMG_9400

Once arriving at your destination you will obviously have to find parking: There are three spots at the office we go to. Sometimes they are all full. In that case I can park on the street. Hopefully I get a spot on the same side of the street as the office. If not I have to run while holding at least two children across the street where cars rarely yield to pedestrians and hope nothing happens to the rental.


Needless to say there have a been a few moments of quiet and cathartic cussing in the car.

Holding on Tight

I think I miss home so much that I haven’t embraced the culture here quite as well as I could. There are a few Brazillian things I have adopted, but mostly I can’t let go of America.

Here are a few things I hope to hang onto when we move back:

  • Dressing up for everyday
  • Asking the butcher for the cuts I need that week
  • Giving thumbs up freely
  • Lying in our hammock when it’s nice
  • Living slowly

Here are some things I can’t seem to let go of:

  • American cooking
  • Staying in one lane while driving
  • Answering with sim (yes)
  • Working hard and getting things done
  • Using AM & PM instead of 24 hour time

And here are things I miss like crazy:

  • Fresh milk
  • The price of everything
  • Smooth. lined roads
  • Knowing what to say in nearly every situation

We love and miss you guys! Let the countdown to the holidays begin!!!

Lessons Learned While Riding & Driving in Manaus

We try not to spend a lot of time in the car here…as mentioned in this post. But because we only have one (rented Fiat Doblo aka boxy stick shift with no power) car, a lot of time ends up being spent driving or riding along.
G, M, & I take L to preschool in the morning before I drop G off at work and head back home.
I pick L up from school before Lunch.
And (since originally writing this post, a co-worker has graciously offered to give G a ride home each day-Thank you!!!) I take all the kids to pick up G from work at the end of the day.
I would estimate that to be at least 3 (generally terror filled) hours in the car for me de segunda a sexta (M-F).

G-master of the road

During one of the rides home at the end of the day, when the whole family was in the car, we drove by a stray dog digging in some trash. Unfortunately, this is a common sight here and I honestly thought nothing of it. Until L started laughing. He pointed at the poor creature and said: “That doggy’s eating trash! That’s silly!”

stray dog in Japiim stray dog in Japiim

At that moment we had a choice. We could either ignore the teachable moment and agree with our observant pre-schooler, or begin to teach him some compassion.

In Christine Carter’s book Raising Happiness she outlines how to raise kind children. You know what is number one on that list? Modeling kindness. If your children don’t see what kindness looks like, how will they ever be able to be kind themselves? Being positive and exposing them to need are also on her list. Living in Manaus it’s very easy to expose our kids to those who need. We do it on a daily basis when we drive through rickety, favelas built over the river on the way to Daddy’s office.

favelas favelas

I feel compassion when driving through those parts of town for the people who live there, but doing it every day has really desensitized me. It’s just part of the drive now. I need to verbalize my compassion so my kiddos know what that’s about and they can learn to feel the same. Volunteering here is out of the question for me, but I do what I can. I give change to those who ask and donate all of our clothes and shoes to those in need. M is constantly growing out of her clothes and just yesterday L asked why his old shoes were in the bag that we were giving away. It was a feel good moment to sit down and talk about how some little boys don’t have shoes so we can help them by giving.

How do you volunteer your time? Do you bring your kids along and involve them too?

One thing people need to stop saying to foreigners

I am white. I have blonde hair and blue eyes, but I magically don’t burn all that easily. I married a blue eyed, white man who does burn easily, and we have three, very white, very blonde children also with blue eyes.

We stand out here.

And I don’t mean like, you’re a little overdressed for the party so you feel slightly awkward stand out. We are a full blown circus act, sideshow, exhibit at a zoo stand out. It’s quite uncomfortable at times. G doesn’t understand why it bothers me, but the strong, red-bearded, Norwegian man that he is can take care of himself. Luckily he’s on my side, right? Being stared and hollered at (even while driving the van with all three kids in the back-not to mention when one is in the stroller, one riding on it, and one is strapped to my back) is disconcerting…kind of makes me not want to go anywhere just to avoid feeling that way. I can’t even tell you how many times strangers have rubbed the boys’ blonde heads, tried to hold their hands, or pick them up and give them hugs.

In any case, the one thing that no one should really ever say is “Are you foreigners?” I mean seriously? Sure, there might be some genuine curiosity there, but couldn’t you open with something slightly less obvious?

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m hanging onto my American culture pretty tight (although I am making a huge effort to learn the language). Maybe it’s because I come from America that I’m used to diversity and find comfort in it, but then again there are plenty of people in America who don’t share those feelings with me. I wonder how the native Brazillian’s feel about me and my family being here. Kind of scary to think that it could be the same that some American’s feel about foreigners there.

Have you ever felt like you were on display?

Happiness Habits

When I read Raising Happiness, one of the steps was forming happiness habits. This step was not initially revolutionary for me. I read the section, took my notes, and moved on. When nap time got so bad I couldn’t stand it I decided to take action.

First, I took a look at Dr. Christine Carter’s worksheet and made my own spiffy version with lots of colors and space for stickers. I filled everything out, talked about turtle steps, and taped them on the wall just outside the boys’ room. I had a plan and it was going to work!

L's Happiness Habit Chart

I knew it was going to be difficult, but I didn’t know what it was going to do to my expectations. By breaking down my big goal of an easy nap time into tiny easily accomplished goals, or turtle steps, I lowered my expectations and didn’t get upset when the boys were using their normal diversionary tactics to delay actually going to sleep. I didn’t even get upset when they didn’t heed to their turtle goal that day. I simply said: Oh bummer, looks like you don’t get a star on your chart today…and kept going.

Let me be clear about this, my and the boys’ behavior didn’t actually change that much; my expectations of our behavior changed. And while it took lots of prayers, time and some tweaking to our routine, I am happy to say that we have an easy nap time! For the first time ever, really.

Celebrations are in order!