Book Your Ticket: Casa do Transito Opens Its Doors

We have always lived on the edge.   Not in the sense of risky.  S and I are both quite risk averse.   No, on the edge of great areas.   That’s what fits into our price range.   In Egypt, we lived on the poor(er) side of Zamalek, looking out on the dilapidated house boats and the popular area of Embaba.   In Chicago, we lived just west of Western Ave. in Humboldt Park, bordering the trendier Bucktown and Wicker Park neighborhoods.

And this has always worked for us, just close enough to the convenience of the nicer areas, without the price.   Why should things be any different in Rio, except that the price even for the cheaper places is still ridiculously high.  Technically we live in Copacabana, but it is in the very back corner, bordering Ipanema and Lagoa.    It is far enough away from the beach that tourists (and everything else that comes with that industry) don’t quite venture this direction, but close enough to walk everywhere.

In Cairo, we called our apartment Casa del Nilo.   Here we sit above a very busy street, full of traffic.   Here we live in Casa do Transito.

And Casa do Transito is now open for visitors.  Today must have been the day when missing us kicked in.  I left for three hours this afternoon and returned home to three messages from my parents and two friends saying they were booking tickets.    So maybe missing us,  us being in an amazing city, and the fact a friend caught sight of a deal for Chicago-Rio tickets for $574 helped us out.

So now the next six months are sprinkled with fun visits and just like Cristo, we will be here to welcome everyone with open arms!


This means I really have to kick up L’s and my city exploring so that we can be resident know-it-alls by the time everyone arrives.


Shopping SAARA: Rua da Alfândega

Nothing gets a toddler out the door like an adventure and today I promised the train.   I could call the letter of the day “T” for train and temper tantrum, but I am trying to forget the latter.  So we will go letter-less.

L woke up early and we headed out after breakfast.

Purpose: Find dresses/outfits for Saturday’s Festa Junina party (you can find a pretty succinct overview of the holiday right here)

Destination:   SAARA (Sociedade de Amigos das Adjacências da Rua da Alfândega)

Translation:   “Society of Friends of the street next to Customs Street”

I know, it seems like a long and lame name for a shopping area, but apparently, saara is Portuguese for “sahara” and the area was originally populated by Jewish, Lebanese, Syrian and Greek merchants after a ban prohibiting their residence in the area was lifted in the eighteenth century.   And the area feels just like that with all kinds of stores pouring out into the streets.  The area has become more diversified with a growing number of Chinese  and Korean shop owners as well.

L and I left around 10 a.m. and arrived a half our later.   We got off the metro at Uruguaiana (there are other stops that will get you there too).  We took the Rua da Alfândega exit and were smack in the middle of the action.

I left the stroller behind fearing that it would be too crowded to get around.    I was pleasantly surprised that while busy, it wasn’t overwhelmingly crowded.  I am not sure I would venture out on a Saturday when the potential for a larger crowd seems higher.  Like most of the shops here, it is closed on Sundays.   Anyway, getting in and out of the shops would have been a challenge with our over sized stroller, but having it would have saved me a lot of lugging around a toddler.

While I do love wandering through these kinds of places, I get claustrophobic of people and in all honesty, I hate shopping.   So I decided to try to be strategic. Granted, I had the incentive of finding similar poorly sewn polyester dresses in Copacabana for R$70 ($30 USD) to keep me going.  I went into the first store and found a dress that L liked for half that price (we will see if she will actually end up wearing it in the end).  The sales woman tried to talk her into a hat, or a barrette or a headband with a hat glued on it, but L wanted nothing to do with it.    I let it go.  She has never liked things in her hair and if she really wants to wear a hat come Saturday, she has a red cowboy hat that will do just fine.   She hated the flowery girl hats anyway.

At that point I had to fight my instinct to flee.   Upon asking random people if everyone actually dresses up for these parties and having them tell me “yes”, I realized that one trip would be better than two.  I found a hat for S with a red kerchief and a plaid shirt for me with a straw hat that has two random yellow braids glued to it.  By noon, we grabbed a snack and headed home.

All and all it was a nice outing, much nicer than my second outing to the grocery store that ended me carrying a screaming, flailing two year old seven blocks back to my house while trying to push the stroller full of groceries.

It was refreshing to see some more reasonable prices.  That said, L really wanted me to buy her a play tool set that was made out of cheap plastic and I thought it was still too much.    I guess I wait for that point where I stop doing conversions and just live here.    But not yet.

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Letter of the Day: P

Even though I quit my job in four months ago, I still haven’t quite gotten this whole Stay at Home Mom thing down yet.   Granted until last week there wasn’t really a home in the equation.  I quit my job in February, flew to Nebraska to drop L with my parents and jetted off to Rio with S to find an apartment.  L and I left Chicago at the end of March, drove to Nebraska, flew to Egypt, stopped in Germany, and returned to Nebraska to drive across the entire state before moving to Brazil.

After two days at home with me L asked when she could go back to school.  She misses kids and fun.   I am not a kid and apparently, depending on the day, I may or may not be fun.  I think S would agree on that as well.

S is traveling for a couple of days so I got to shirk my lunch responsibilities today and just be fun.   My original plan was to catch the metro downtown on an “adventure” to find L a dress for Festa Junina.   However we realized right before we left the cable man from Net was supposed to come at noon.  Last week we waited for someone to show up and he didn’t, but I thought I would give him the benefit of the doubt. So, reprogram.

In the end, we had a fun day, full of patience, waiting for the Net guy who never came.   Without intention it was a day full of P’s.

L slept by herself last night so we started with pancakes and headed to the park.   Back to the house we chatted with Grandma Penny.   In our afternoon of waiting snacked on pickles and drug out the paints, even resorted to making popcorn paintings.   At 5:00 p.m. with the no show confirmed we went out to the pool down the street and signed L up for  swimming lessons and then passed by a preschool to inquire about openings.

Pretty lame, but L loved it.

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So now tomorrow is our day for adventure.

As Good as It Is Going to Get: A Completed Kitchen

I didn’t have high expectations of my soon-to-be kitchen when we came apartment hunting back in February.  We Americans are rather spoiled by our large open kitchens.  Unless you have been renting in Chicago where poorly designed and cheaply constructed kitchens leave much to be desired.   But I came prepared.   The kitchens in the new high rises of Barra were small but nice.   Others, were cramped and dark.   When we decided for sure we wanted to be in the city, I prepared myself for tiny and prayed that even the smallest American sized appliances we pre-ordered would fit.

When we found our apartment, we were incredibly lucky.  It isn’t small at all.  We have two bedrooms, S has an office that fits his over sized desk, we have a guest room for all of you (but mostly for in-laws that will stay months at a time), and a “servant’s quarters” with bunk beds that S refers to as the bunker that we will be prepared to rent out during the World Cup for ridiculous prices.   Even the kitchen seemed relatively large.

The problem really with the kitchen is that in an old building like this, it was designed either for a maid or by someone that never spent a day of their life cooking.  Right before we moved, I realized that the kitchen did not have a single drawer and there was nowhere in which one could be easily fashioned.   The cabinets are made out of a plastic laminate material that the movers already punctured and had to replace (not to mention they are just ugly).   Our appliances fit, but are crowded.  The sinks are shallow and you can expect to get showered each time you turn them on, not even a mixing bowl will fit into them (plural, because there are two detached, equally small impractical sinks).  But most frustrating is the utter lack of any counter space.  The portable dishwasher with a counter top and the last minute kitchen island purchase have been lifesavers.


Here’s looking in at the kitchen from the living room. We managed to leave just enough room for the service entry. My only counter space is the kitchen island.

Here’s the view from the service entry and our pyramid of appliances.

The cabinets were a disaster, but are now workable.  Here are before and after pictures.

Here are the ugliest cabinets. Ever.

Here are the before cabinets after the movers and S (for Stuffer) got to them.

So, while it isn’t my dream kitchen, it is growing on me and I am adapting.  Good thing Rio is too hot for bread making.   I wouldn’t have anywhere to roll out dough anyway.

Spicing Up Life in Rio: Arab Markets

So I have been to every grocery story in our neighborhood, and there are quite a few, and had started to assemble a wish list of spices from the States.    Granted, knowing that S and I will be going to the States in a month makes for a pretty easy out to tracking down hidden markets in the city when I have a million other things to do.

Way down on my list was finding the Arab markets in hopes they would have all the spices my neighborhood markets don’t have, but today one found me disguised as Pedro.   S had to go get a new ID, so L and I tagged along.   We got off the metro at Siquiera Campos and walked a few blocks. As we entered the building where the ID office was a small store caught my eye.  It was packed with spices and bins of different legumes, grains, olives, oils, sweets, and wine.   L dozed off in the stroller and S was number 92 in line and getting a haircut next door, so I ditched them to go complete my pantry.

For less than 35 dollars I walked out of Casas Pedro with a bottle of Chilean wine, real old fashioned oatmeal at a reasonable price, unsweetened cocoa, tahina, and all the spices I have been needing, except garam masala because they were out, but including cream of tartar so L and I can get busy making play dough.

They have an entire encyclopedia on the use and medicinal qualities of herbs and spices online along with a list of everything they carry.   Better yet, there is a shop only three blocks from my house that I apparently missed.  Unfortunately the one thing they don’t carry is one of L’s favorite foods ever, pearl couscous.  But a trip to Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods in the States next month will have that covered.

Now, if I could only find a grocery store that carries fresh hot peppers.   I miss salsa already!

A Room Complete

I have been trying to post this post for three days but was having trouble with our connection uploading pictures.

So here it is, the room of all rooms that is supposed to be so inviting that L doesn’t want to leave it, especially at night.   Now if only we could figure out how to drown out the sound all the traffic.   Ideas?

A Perfect Sunday: Brunch at Fort Copacabana

Now that Rio + 20 has wrapped up the city is clearing out. Still we were a bit leery to head to what had been the epicenter of much of the action, Fort Copacabana (Forte de Copacabana).    We got there at 10 a.m. feeling like we were quite late.  As it ends up, the restaurants don’t open until 10 a.m. so we were perfectly on time.    Note that for early toddler breakfasts we need to find a different location.

The line outside was long, but the best thing about having a toddler (or being old or pregnant for that matter) in Brazil is that you have access to preferential lines.  We buzzed past the crowd and were through the gates in a matter of minutes.   We settled into a table at Confectionaria Colombo that overlooked the beach, and the mountain that we see every morning when we look out our window (literally, you can touch it from our window).

On an attempt to have a day to just ourselves, we ended up without a camera or a phone.

Confectionaria Colombo at Fort Copacabana provides a perfect view of Copacabana beach and the Sugar Loaf in the distance on a clear day.

We ordered an omelet and a café da manhã light that came with yogurt, granola, a bread basket, fresh cheese and deli turkey, cream cheese and honey, a small plate of sweets, and fresh orange juice.  We ordered two cappuccinos.   As avid brunchers and spoiled by Chicago, I will try not to be too hard on the food.   The omelet was okay. The addition or oregano made it taste more like a pizza.  The bread included both white and whole grain.   L was happy with the yogurt and granola.   The sweets were a disappointment.   The cappuccinos were horrible, overly sweet and topped with two inches of whipped cream.   I have to learn that sweet is the default here so if I want a plain cap.  I need to make that explicit.     While I wasn’t impressed with the food, I would definitely go back.  Knowing brunch isn’t a thing here like it is in the States, I have adjusted my expectations, and the view and the company made it totally worth it.

We finished breakfast and walked to edge to look out over the ocean and up and down the coast and then headed to the beach.   And just like that, in a matter of ten minutes were were sprawled out on the beach with L running back and forth between us and the water.   We met a little girl who had the same birthday, whose mother was extremely generous in offering me advice on hospitals, pediatricians, and preschools.   Of course, with my Portuguese, I repeat everything she said in an effort to remember and consequently forget by the time it leaves my mouth.   Luckily she offered me her number and email before I even had to ask.

We walked up the beach and back home, stopping by the bike shop to pick up the stroller that got a flat tire last week on my way home.   The rest of the afternoon has been lazy, but napless, and now it is time to celebrate with a little taste of home by breaking into a coveted bag of chocolate chips to make cookies.

Happy Anniversary

In my head it has always been the 24th.   Apparently, according to S we discuss this every year and I always insist on the wrong day.   Last week he asked me which day it was going to be, knowing perfectly when our anniversary actually was.  I told him the 24th and he simply responded, “Okay, this year it will be then.”   He didn’t insist it was the 23rd.    He prefers I come around on my own time to knowing he is right.   And he was . . .is.   Yup, every year I misremember our anniversary.

I blame it on the fact that we had to move the wedding a day ahead after we found out that Brazil would be playing in the world cup on Thursday night (June 22nd, 2006).   In all honesty, I wasn’t told we would have to move it exactly, just that if we did choose to have it on Thursday that we would have to have TVs present at the wedding party.    I knew very well that my husband-to-be loved me, but I was not so foolish as to believe that he would be so taken by the night that he would forget that there was a Brazil game happening that very moment.   In Egypt, the weekend is Friday and Saturday so that left us with Friday night, June 23rd, 2006.   In the end it all worked out.  We spent the night before our wedding watching the world cup with friends and family and our wedding night without TVs (we had plenty of other entertainment, including a belly dancer, a midnight buffet, a hidden bar, fabulous friends, my (and my family’s) attempts to dance to Arabic music, and a petty thief to wrap up the party).

So in my head I always move the date forward.   At least that is how I think I have come to the conclusion, for years now, that I think we actually got married on the 24th.  That and I have a preference for even numbers.    (I won’t even get started on the fact that our official wedding date is in May, the day we signed the papers after bribing officials and visiting six different government offices.   It was a painful bureaucratic day that we prefer to forget and is a story for a different day, especially since it continues to haunt us in my Brazilian residency process).

But while I have to be reminded of the date (never again after today!), I don’t have to be reminded of why.   Six years ago I made a promise to spend the rest of my life with my best friend, a man who I never imagined I would find.   A man who makes me laugh, who makes me blush, who can still make my heart flutter like he did the day we met.  Six years ago I celebrated finding a person who makes me a better person.   A person who turned a skeptic into as much of a romantic as she will ever be.

I never did believe in fate, but Gido (S’s dad) taught me to reconsider.  His love story was one against all odds.  One that brought a merchant marine from Egypt to Brazil to find S’s mother and marry her.   One that included traveling to Argentina to try to get married because Egypt and Brazil didn’t have diplomatic relations.   One that ended up in a marriage via power of attorney and a long (fabricated) hospital stay so his father could avoid going home during the war.

Gido believed our story was one of fate as well, though against fewer odds.   And honestly, it is nicer to think that my Fulbright application to study a year in Brazil after college was denied because there was something better in store.  It’s reassuring that S listened to his father and waited until after he worked for awhile before he jetted off to the States.  We would have just missed one another, close but not close enough, since I was headed to Rio not Recife and he to Colorado and not Nebraska.  Neither of us planned on ending up in Egypt.   Never did I think that Gabo, an old friend from Chile, would stalk down my future husband in a desperate attempt to land some Spanish teaching job with a hot guy!   But that’s what happened.

Today S told L the story of the best party of our life that we were, consequently, recovering from six years ago today.   She wanted to see the video and when she saw the party she told us she wanted to go there.   I don’t blame her.  I’d go back too.

The Before Pictures

The walls of this apartment are absolutely impossible, so we spent the day having somebody else wage the battle.   We got mostly done, so for now I will leave you in suspense.   Here are the before pictures.

An Apartment Almost Complete

We are so close to being done putting the apartment together.  S was here when all the boxes arrived and he attempted to sort through and set up what he could, and in his true style, stuffed what he couldn’t.  I arrived just in time to do what I do best, take everything out.   Now I am struggling to get it all into place.   Let’s be honest, it’s a lifetime struggle for me.   But I am trying.  Really trying.

L’s room is complete.  S’s office is cozy.   The furniture is finally set up in the living room and the kitchen is as organized as a drawer-less kitchen can possibly be.

Now we are just faced with the annoying stragglers.   Pictures.   Paintings.  A basket full of clothes I probably should have donated before we moved.  Then there are the things that we are hoping will still complete themselves, though the probability is waning now that the boxes have dwindled down:  a shadeless lamp, an accessory-less dryer, a support-less bed frame, a broken main slat in our bed, one empty pillow case that happens to be missing my nice pillow, no jewelery box (I know.  I know.  It wasn’t supposed to be in the boxes anyway but our movers in the U.S. were so damn efficient they packed it before I realized it.   I am already kicking myself over and over.   Now I am trying not to think about it.   I didn’t have anything really valuable, but definitely sentimental.  Moving on.).

Today, in an effort to finally just get all of it out of our way, we had a handyman come by the house.   He arrived three hours late and forgot his handy drill so after trying in vain with ours, he rescheduled for Friday.

No sleep last night, the lack of progress today, a sick kid (“my snot just keeps coming and coming”), and generally gloomy weather put me an less than pleasant mood today and everyone in my house had to pay for it.   Luckily, a glass of expensive (but cheap) wine, S and an episode of Mad Men has now made it all better.

Tomorrow, I’ll post pictures.