The Planetarium: Stargazing and Running Ramps

We had a play date a couple of weeks ago with new friends.  I sent my parents on a friend dating mission while they were here and they aced it.   We now have one new set a of friends, a California couple with an adorable daughter that L likes to pretend is her little sister.  This works out well for all of us, especially given that we don’t have any plans for #2.

Despite mixed reviews we thought we would give the zoo a shot, but it was rainy and on the day we planned to go it poured.  And poured.

Given that neither of us moms relished the thought of being cooped up all afternoon with overly energetic toddlers we decided on an alternative:   The Planetarium (Planetário da Gávea).

It is a small museum, but engaging with a number of interactive displays.   But the most entertaining element was the three story ramp that the girls spent the afternoon running up and down.   They have films for children and adults on weekends and holidays and a small library.  They even host sleep overs for kids age 7-11. The cafe isn’t anything special but if you are looking for a way to buy some more time in the rain, it works.

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Saturday Hike: Morro do Leme

Yesteday was yet another cloudy day in which we didn’t hear the beach calling, at least not for us in our swimming suits.   Instead, we decided to bike up the beach and hike the Morro do Leme, which sits at the opposite end of the Copacabana beach.

The Fort of Duque de Caxias is an area that I have been wanting to visit for quite some time, but was unsure how exactly to tackle it with a toddler.  Rather than thinking it over, we just ended up there and it all turned out just fine.

There is a military installation at the foot of the hill so we parked our bikes and headed up the cobblestone path to the top.   The entrance fee is R$4 and the climb up is steep but not too strenuous.  It took us around a half hour to climb and that was with L walking most of the way herself.

The views from the top are incredible, even on a cloudy day.   You can look south over Copacabana and the beaches, the Corcovado looks down from a distance, the Pão de Açúcar stretches out beside it and Niteroi spans out across the bay.

We were totally unprepared to actually hike.  S had thrown an apple in his bag at the last minute and luckily they had a water fountain on the top.

After we made our way back down the mountain we stopped by one of our favorite coffee shops, La Fiducia Cafe.   It is a bit pricier but the coffee is usually done well. S’s sandwich was perfect, L requested two orders of pao de quejo and my mom and I split a bruschetta in which the tomatoes were actually flavorful (tomatoes don’t seem to be Brazil’s strong point).

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Lazy Day at the Lagoa

Thursday was a holiday here. Given that the last week has been full of rainy and overcast days, my mom and I decided to take L to the Lagoa just over the hill from our place rather than head to the beach. It is so close to our house, but we rarely ever spend a weekend there.

Thursday was the perfect kind of day to go to the Lagoa. There was warm, not hot, with a nice breeze. Despite the holiday, it was relatively empty because many Cariocas were trying to take advantage of a long weekend by taking Friday off and escaping the city for the weekend.

We rented a bike cart. L navigated our route, ringing the bell and waving at people. It was a perfect people watching and outfit observing experience. We biked too fast and laughed too much. Twenty minutes was the perfect amount of time for all of us and we treated L a bit of trampoline time before we headed off for our picnic.

Just as we were wrapping up with the bikes and trampoline we started to hear singing and percussion. We walked up the path a bit near Parque de Cantagalo and came upon a group of performers from Brasil Rural Contemporaneo who were playing the drums, singing, and dancing on stilts.   L was completely enthralled and was disappointed to learn she couldn’t go dance with them.   We ended our afternoon with a picnic at the park and a surprise visit from S who returned home from São Paulo.

On the weekends the beach usually calls, but I need to remember that there are all kinds of impromptu events at the Lagoa that are perfect for kids.  And if all else fails, we can settle for a swan paddle boat on the water.   Not so bad for a lazy day.

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Friday Night Date: O Caranguejo with Babysitters Provided

There is something to be said for having a neighborhood hangout, somewhere you can go and they give you a friendly look and don’t really even need to take your order.   I have been on the lookout for one here since we arrived. Immediately, I was intrigued by a bustling little corner restaurant, O Caranguejo (The Crab), a few blocks from the house near the metro.  It isn’t a very fancy place, but isn’t as dirty as some of the other little corner establishments near us.   We could call it rustic.   The demographic isn’t quite ours either, but it seems to have regulars and I took that as a good sign.

I looked into reviews.   A few years back it won a prize for its shrimp empanadas, but more recent reviews were mediocre rather than glowing.  Guide books said its prices were reasonable, but in passing by with our friends that were visiting a few weeks ago I took one glance and thought they were way too high.  What I didn’t realize at that time was that one plate, or rather a half a plate, easily feeds two to four people.

Friday was a long day.   L and I spent a good part of our afternoon hanging out a McDonald’s play area in the burbs waiting for our car to be fixed.   We got home late and both S and I were in need of a date night.   Given that it was cool out and late, we didn’t want to venture far since we had to be back in time for L’s bedtime so we decided to give O Caranguejo a go.

We got there around 6:30 and outside seating was taken so we sat inside.   We ordered a bottle of wine, the shrimp empanadas and the HALF seafood paella.  The empanadas were small and okay.  We have had better.  L prefers her empanandas deconstructed (or rather she picks out the shrimp).  The paella did not quite fit what I consider a traditional paella but I lived with an amazing Spanish roommate in Egypt who could cook a killer paella, so perhaps I am a harsh judge.    Had this been called a seafood shrimp casserole or some other name, it would have been great.

But really, I am not about to complain about semantics here.   What really rocked the night was that S and I actually got a pretty kid-less date.  Only in Brazil would this happen and it all be okay.  Early when we got there, S took L to the bathroom.  On the way out our waiter caught them and told Lara to come with him.   The restaurant is very small and the indoor area only has about ten tables.   The waiter guided L over to a table a few tables from us and pulled out the chair, introducing her to an older couple.   He looked at us, winked, and told us that the woman is crazy about kids.   Before we knew it, L was drawing and making napkin balls, and talking their ears off, and S and I were drinking wine and discussing adultish kind of stuff.

Fifteen minutes into our dinner, S winked at me and told me that he even could get them to feed L.   I knew they were an easy target and within seconds they waiter was taking L’s plate to the other table.   A couple bites later, L sent her plate back and came to sit with us, but as soon as her dinner was finished she was off to play with her new friends.

As we paid the bill, S nonchalantly asked the waiter if the couple comes often.  He laughed and said every day.   The couple turned around and said they can’t wait to see L again am pretty sure that S and I both decided at that moment that our search for a neighborhood hangout had come to an end, especially if sitters are provided!

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Brazilian Birthday Success!

We survived our first Brazilian birthday.  We met all of L’s classmates. They understood my Portuguese.  It was everything she wanted:  blue, cupcakes that she got to decorate, chocolate covered almonds, coconut brigadeiro (with real chocolate sprinkles that might have taken a tumble in route to the party), and pão de queijo.   L was so excited she didn’t even eat her cupcake, but she talked a lot about it.

I did learn that apparently few kids here drink “leito puro” (pure milk).  I thought their teacher was referring to them drinking powdered milk.  Nope. None of the kids, other than L, wanted to touch the milk since it wasn’t mixed with chocolate.

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Now to prep for our next visitor. Let the planning begin!

Mom Failure: All Dressed Up With Nowhere to Go

So I am kind of on a roll.   Last week, precisely when I lost L’s Tinker Bell birthday invitations that I never replaced since we are doing it at school anyway, we got one in the mail–the one I was worried about setting a precedent before we had L’s simple party at the school.

Well, I swore the party was tonight and while I thought that a Sunday night party from 5:00 – 9:00 p.m. was a bit ridiculous, I assumed it because it was (1) a holiday weekend, and (2) because this is how Brazilians do it. This will teach me to make assumptions.

We spent all weekend prepping L for the party, going shopping for a present for her classmate, wrapping it up, having L write a card, and tonight she chose a special party outfit.   While S and I weren’t thrilled about going out on Sunday night and loading our kid up with sugar, we were excited to actually meet some of the other parents.

When we got to the building and rang the bell, we realized immediately that something was amiss. The doorman didn’t seem to recognize that there was a birthday party in the building.   I pulled out the invitation to confirm we were in the right place and that is when I saw it–the date.   The date actually said 01/09/2012, meaning last Saturday.

In my defense, old habits die hard.   I only found the invitation in L’s backpack on Tuesday, thus I assumed that the party was this upcoming weekend and when I glanced at the date, I intuitively looked at the middle 09 since we Americans usually list the date month/day/year (we don’t have to get into the fact that I date all my computer documents according to international standards).

Anyway, there we were, all three dressed to make an impression with nowhere to go and having to break it to the little one that there would be no party, friends, games, cake, or candy.   I tried to explain that I made a mistake and confused the date.   Ten minutes later L told me, “I made a mistake too.  I wanted to go to M’s party.”   Not sure the whole message got through, but she did understand that there was not going to be a party.   We settled for pizza, building a tent, and frosting L’s cupcakes when we got home.



Little Things

When our friends left last week it came with a rush of emotion, especially for L.   Tears flowed at the airport as we said our goodbyes and L told my friend, “If you leave, I will be so sad.”

We have been fortunate in that our lives have been pretty steady and we haven’t had to face much emotional distress.  Our leaving the States was spread out over months so when L and I finally did leave it didn’t feel so much like a major event, rather a welcomed reunion with papai who we hadn’t seen for months.

That said, when S’s father, Gido (grandfather in Arabic) passed away in March it hit us all very hard.   L and I spent five weeks in Egypt with S’s family and it was the first time L had experienced such raw grief.  They say toddlers are excellent at emphathy and our time there was testament to that.   Every time Vovó (grandma in Portuguese) cried, L was there, climbing onto her lap to console and comfort her, patting her back and hugging her.  
I think it was the tears at the airport that brought all those emotions flooding back last week.  As we pulled away from the airport, L talked about Chicago,airplanes, and missing friends.  And after I got a little off track and had to do a roundabout return, L settled into a new line of questioning about Gido.   “Mamãe, where is Gido?   I want him to come back.”   “Why did he die?”  “When I grow up, I will die too and then I will go see Gido.”    As I sped along the highway back to the city it was all I could do to keep myself together.   
When Gido passed, I read about the best way to explain death to toddlers–to keep it simple, to try not to focus too much on abstracts, rather concentrate on concepts they can understand.  But this time my simple answers didn’t cut it.  L wanted to understand what happened and why. I was totally unprepared with more sophisticated, yet simple answers.   Finally, she seemed satisfied with my responses (or just gave up) and we talked about putting on popcorn and pajamas when we got home. 
That night, L woke up in a screaming fit, haunted by her first real nightmare (we had a small bout of night terrors about a year ago and while they were scary in the moment, at least she didn’t remember them when she woke up).  This time she was terrified of mosquitoes and little things.
Having seen a swarm of mosquitoes in front of the apartment earlier in the day, I understood where that came from but I had no idea what little things were and blew them off at the time.   But this last week we have all been haunted by little things–shadows on the wall at night that reflect off the passing cars and between spaces in the shades.   She has a palpable fear. 
Two nights ago we read There’s a Nightmare in my Closet and talked about making friends with the little things and Prudence’s Goodnight Book, which usually I find a bit too preachy but was exactly what I needed, and talked about how moms can scare away bad dreams and how you can choose good dreams and put them under your pillow. It worked, but by last night they were back.   The real problem is that these aren’t dreams.    The little things are there before she sleeps and they find ways to sneak under the creases of her covers on her bed and onto her hand, despite my best attempts at hanging blankets where the light creeps in.  
This, in addition, to a potty training regression has made for a tough week.  L told us that if her best friend would just come back she would be all better.    If only things in life were that easy.   I know that these lessons are important life lessons, but it still doesn’t make it easier as your kid goes through them.  As always, I thought I would have a lot more time before I had to tackle such parenting feats.   Trying to strike the balance between acknowleding and validating fears and emotions and brushing them off in hopes they get past them is harder in practice.   I find my first response is to try to make her happy and feel better in the moment, but as a wise friend once told me, it is important to let her feel sad too.
The sadness of her friend’s leaving is passing, or will soon, but the nightmares/fears don’t seem to be.  We tried the spray that worked on the monsters but L called us out on it.    What have you done to confront night terrors?  How do you help your kid deal with feelings of sadness and loneliness?

Away and Back Again


Leave it to the first kid free vacation in three years to kick off a month of silence.  At the end of July, S and I ditched the little one with my in-laws and headed to California to visit relatives in San Diego, make our way up the coast on Highway 1, and attend and amazing wedding with dear friends.

At first we wondered if we still actually had stuff to talk about and whether the trip might turn into hours of uncomfortable silence driving in the car.  Luckily, we realized we still really do like each other (not just love each other).  Of course, the sleeping in, not having to think about nap times and bed times, potty breaks, temper tantrums, and being able to just sit and read whatever, whenever, we wanted also helped.   We spent two weeks drinking incredible coffee, sipping wine, and exploring cities and towns up the coast.  When we got to San Francisco we were treated with amazing food and our old Chicago friends.

That said, we also missed L.  She started daycare/preschool the Monday after we left and by the time we returned she seemed more grown up than ever.   Most incredible though was how in two weeks of school and staying with S’s family her Portuguese exploded.   For nearly three years S spoke to L only in Portuguese and was rewarded with a word here and there in her English responses.   However, now it is quite the opposite.  She switches to speak in Portuguese with him, even if we are all together and speaking English.   She conjugates verbs in past and present and even corrects my pronunciation.

All this was just a month ago, but time here seems to slip away and it seems like months ago.   We came back and had a few days with S’s family before they left.   Then S was off for work and our good friends from Chicago arrived, just before he got back.  So between, going away and being back showing off the city and clocking in as much friend time as possible, I haven’t taken time to check-in.    But today I decided that would change.   I’m back.

Driving in Brazil: Recreio dos Bandeirantes

I did it! I took the plunge and drove. It isn’t that I have been scared to drive, just lazy. After spending a month and a half in Egypt, traffic here seems much more civilized, at least to my very compartmentalized American mind. I still hear my drivers’ education instructor telling me what and what not to do. Ask S, I often play the role when he drives in the States.

Anyway, given S’s travel schedule and all of our upcoming visitors, I needed to get my feet wet so I can start shuttling back and forth between our place and the airport. And so, on Sunday I decided to do it.

After a week of rain and relatively chillier weather (meaning I had to put on a long sleeve shirt), we welcomed the heat wave on Sunday and headed to spend the morning at the beach.

Instead of heading to the beach in Copacabana we packed up the car and drove south to Recreio dos Bandeirantes. The beach there is less crowded. Large waves attract surfers but a large sandbank allows them to break before they reach the shore, providing a calmer water front for kids than in Barra itself.

We spent the better part of the morning there before meeting up with friends for lunch on the Ilha dos Pescadores, which I will tell you more about some other day. It was a lovely relaxing afternoon with the best food i have had yet here.

The trip out to Recreio in the morning from Zona Sul took a half hour. The trip back in the evening at 6:30 p.m. took over an hour. But the trip gave me the chance to do a bit of everything and it went well (forget the man on a bike going wrong way on a one way who I almost took out). Now, I just have to build up the confidence to take on the city without my co-pilot.

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