Janeiro

2019 is very distinct from 2018 in my mind because we punctuated the end of 2018 nicely with a trip back to the U.S. for the holidays. I’ve been in Brazil continuously since January 4th (aside from two very quick forays into Paraguay, more on those later) so 2019 has been completely Brazil-ified in my memory.

Our kids’ school, Wings, was on summer vacation for the entire month of January, which was pretty daunting for me. It has absolutely been a privilege for me to get to stay home with Oscar and August, and it has also been hard. When the kids started to attend school on weekday mornings, I was freed up to run errands, pull the house into order, and pursue some of my own interests. Wings has provided so much for the kids that I simply could not: a robust social life for August and Oscar, pedagogically sound/super fun activities, and an education in Portuguese. So without it, what to do in January? I googled around and read about how other full-time parents structure their time (I cannot describe to you the relief I feel when things are structured), and I created a daily agenda for myself. It worked well, and I relied on it less as the month went on.

Here’s a taste of what we got up to.


Okay, first things first. I bingewatched Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up along with the rest of America, and I immediately transformed our closets. Eight months later, I’m still a convert.

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This is such a non-story, but one day, August put an empty ice cream container on his head, and it made him/all of us laugh so hard that both kids will still randomly put one of these on to surprise us. 20190108_130717


One morning I found a really beautiful and probably not poisonous spider who’d built this perfect web on one of our outdoor plants.

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I made a big purchase at the mall: the carrinho that August is in, pictured below. This is a *classic* kids’ toy here, and with all of the free time gifted to us in January, I decided that August needed wheels to keep up with Oscar on his bike. Also pictured below: one of Oscar’s phases of wearing his Captain America costume for several consecutive days.

Not pictured: this is the same day that Oscar rode an electronic tiger into a furniture store display and shattered a vase. Silver lining, I learned a bunch of new words.

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Oscar dropped his afternoon nap sometime in late 2018…except on days when he really needs it and suddenly falls asleep on the couch.

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Our friend Cici came to visit! This was super exciting for me. I have made some truly special friendships with Brazilian women, but being able to connect with my English-speaking female friend for several days was so comforting. She was five months into a seven month journey around South America, and I also loved hearing about her style of travel and her experiences. I hope she writes a book about it all someday, but in the meantime, I really recommend checking out her blog, Cici Woolf Travels. She’s a fantastic writer with a unique worldview.

I remember that she arrived at our home around 4am, after a looong bus ride from Buenos Aires. We spent time touring around Dourados, and then I drove us to what has become Matt’s and my favorite jungle city, Bonito. This was another milestone for me, as it was my first time road-tripping without Matt in Brazil. Much gratitude to him for holding down the fort with the kids while Cici and I swam and snorkeled and ate decadently.

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Actually, I made my first two road-trips during Cici’s stay. We live just under two hours from the border with Paraguay (this part of Brazil used to be Paraguay actually, until a bloody multi-nation war in the mid-1800s), and after her stay with us, Cici was flying via Asunción to Bogotá, Colombia. Our plan was that I (along with the kids and our good friend Alana) would drive her to the border, where she could catch a bus to Asunción.

A Brazilian friend reminded me on the day of Cici’s departure that she would need a visa to travel through Paraguay, which set off a harried chain of events. My anxiety, which is always sort of humming at low frequency, rose to new volumes as I drove an unfamiliar route with my kiddos chattering away to Cici in the backseat, simultaneously strategizing with Alana in Portuguese about what we needed to do once in Paraguay to get Cici a visa. (In the back of my mind, I was also concerned because I didn’t yet have my Brazilian driver’s license, so I had two different contingency plans ready depending on who pulled me over and for what.) It all worked out in the end, and I learned quite a lot: about being a calm, problem-solving traveler from watching Cici, and about being a steadfast, selfless friend from watching Alana help us all navigate the situation.

Bonus: we spent a little time at Shopping China, which is the big across-the-border mall that everyone in Dourados likes to visit for better prices on imports and electronics. It also has an enormous (and free) indoor playground for kids. I bought some pool toys, wine (duh obviously), and a jar of Ortega salsa because you can’t find that ish anywhere here.

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Speaking of Alana, earth angel that she is: in late 2018, Alana connected with a local organization that offers men recovering from drug addiction a home, therapy, and meaningful work. While she was volunteering there, she invited me to an open house with a luncheon and a program to celebrate two of the most recent graduates. It was very moving, and the actual site of the program was an idyllic farm, with real animals! The organization isn’t Catholic anymore, but it has Catholic roots, and we kicked off the festivities with a 90-minute mass. At the end of it, I was invited to introduce myself in front of all of the guests. It was a surprise, but I pushed through my embarrassment and managed an on-the-spot greeting and introduction in Portuguese. (They might have asked me to do this anyway, because we as Americans are such oddities here, but the program also adopted its methodology from another program in Minnesota, which was a connection discovered when I first arrived.)

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A scene typical of summer vacation anywhere. The kids in our complex formed an elastic roving group that moved from house to house, playing together.

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Dourados is not known for its beauty, but let me tell you, there are always different varieties of outrageously flowering trees in this city, and I can’t get enough of them. The petals on one species finally fall off, you turn a corner, and suddenly there are a dozen trees full of another type of bloom just bursting open. It is maybe my favorite feature of this city. I don’t know what kind of master gardener planned such a chain reaction of year-round beauty, but I am tão grata.

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And last but not least- Captain America strikes again.

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