Monday, May 25, 2009

Iguaçu: A Preview

We're still here in Foz de Iguaçu, havin' a great time!

Here's just a quick preview before I can get home and write a proper entry:
This is us at one of the lookout points for the waterfalls, which are amaaaazzziiinnngg

And this is our toucan friend, and us, happy as clams, completely unaware of the traumatizing event to come just seconds after when...

I was attacked by that bird, as you can see in this picture. Since the perspective's kinda bad, I'll fill you in: that giant turkey thing was on my backpack and in my hair. And that's me, praying for my life, while Kristin shouted encouraging words ("stay calm! We're gonna get him off! Don't move!") and the tour guide took my picture instead of helping me.

But we escaped unscathed, only now with an irrational fear of bird sanctuaries with free-flying birds.


Read about the rest of our trip here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

FML and Sunny Days

So last week in my class, one of the students was trying to remember some rule about the homework.
"What was the name of that teacher who told us?" She asked the other students.
"It was Danielle," a student said.
"No, the pretty one!" was her response.
...

I just looked around the room to see if anyone caught that. No one did.
"Oh, I remember her name!" the student said. Then she said the name of another teacher.

Awesome.
I'm "The American," "A Branquina" (the white girl), and if I'm lucky, "the one with the glasses" (that was what I commonly got in America), but clearly not "The pretty one."
FML.

But that's okay, everyone smile at the following video and try not to think about it:


Anyway. On to happier news: Kristin will be here in less than a week! :D :D I'm taking a few days much need days off work (I'm teaching the same class 4 times a week at the school. If I have to explain the differences between may, might, can, should, and must one more time, I just might shoot myself), and we're going to as cataratas do Iguaçu!

If you don't know what that is, it's this:
It's a national park on the borders between Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. It is made up of some of the biggest waterfalls in the world, second only to Victoria Falls in Africa. It also has the world's largest dam. Brazil has something that I still don't understand-- water that comes out of the ground very far away from the ocean. If anyone (Elena) understands how this works, please explain!

Planning our trip required a travel agency, something that is much more common in Brazil in the absence of expedia.com and Southwest airlines. And in the week-long ordeal of trying to work with a travel agency, I remembered why I can't stand middle men. It was one of those weeks during which I really, really missed the efficiency of American logistics. But thanks mostly to Alexandre's help, we got everything worked out, and Kristin and I are going to have a great trip! (Poor Alexandre can't come because he's starting his Proctology unit at the hospital and it's very difficult for him to get out of such a LOAD of work... pun intended. Haha I just can't wait for the stories he's going to come home with every day.)

This month, the state of São Paulo is having this cultural expo thing in a variety of cities. It's mostly concerts and plays, and this weekend, we got a bit of it in our city. We had a REALLY strange circus act thing with a hot air baloon. It was a gymnast of sorts hanging from the baloon, and a bunch of people in gypsy clothes and paint running around the baloon. Two men in similar costumes played a guitar and a flute. I asked Alexandre, "How do they practice? What do they do to prepare for this?" to which he responded, "LSD."
Here's what it was like:


















After checking out the circus freaks for a while, we made our way over the music section. It was a relatively famous jazz/funk band that Alexandre likes. It was fun. They had beer and chocolate-filled churros and the weather was perfect.
see how much fun?

After I just got way too bored listening to jazz-funk, we took a walk around the represa. We were ever so lucky to get the bird tree in daylight!
What is the bird tree?
It's a big, big tree in the represa that all of these white birds stay in overnight. At night, it looks AMAZING because all of the birds look like flowers. Since it was sunset, the picture still isn't great, but you'll kind of get the idea:
Those are BIRDS!

It was a nice day spent outside.
I'll leave you with some entertaining pictures of the cat. You may be tired of her, but she is endless fun for us. Don't worry, no cats were harmed in the taking of these hilarious pictures:
rolling around in the sun
being precious
roller coaster gatinha! HAHAHA Cracks. Me. Up!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Ode to the Rice Cooker

For anyone who's trying to find ways to eat out less and/or cook more and/or eat healthier, I recommend...

bum bum bum...

The Rice Cooker!
That's a picture of ours.

The in-laws bought this for us as a gift a couple of months ago (mostly because the father-in-law has a slight obsession with late-night infomercials), and it has completely changed our cooking habits.

Why is the rice cooker so great? Well, the primary reason is because YOU DON'T HAVE TO USE IT ONLY FOR RICE. If this blog inspires you to invest in one of these miracles of technology, be sure to buy one that comes with a tray for steaming vegetables, something like this:
So, like I said, the rice cooker can be used to make many things. We put some kind of carb-y thing in the bottom part, where the rice goes-- it can be rice, of course, or potatoes, or pasta, or, if you're one of the readers who live in Brazil, mandioca. All of these carbs are significantly improved (at least flavor-wise) if you drop some chicken bullion cubes in the water.

Then, on the vegetable steamer part, we cut up whatever vegetables we want: carrots, green beans, olives, broccoli, onions, cabbage, bell peppers, etc. We make sure we've got enough water, close it up, turn it on, and after about 20-30 mins, voila!

Why the rice cooker is great:
1. It's much easier to clean than the stove
2. The vegetables don't require stirring or monitoring-- you can just leave it!
3. It's healthier because there's no oil or frying involved (just moderate amounts of butter, if I get my way)
4. The vegetables don't lose their nutrients into the boiling water
5. The possibilities are endless!

We just fry some meat on the side to go with whatever vegetables we've made.

Some meals:
1. Mashed potatoes (mash 'em up after you boil them in the rice cooker) with honey carrots (Nanny's recipe, of course) and beef filets
2. Mandioca on the bottom, green beans and largely-cut onions on the top, and fresh sliced tomatoes (tomatoes don't work as well in the rice cooker... we just cut them straight from the fridge and throw on a bit of olive oil, salt, and Italian seasoning-- called "hervas finas" in Portuguese) with some meat, of course
3. Healthier stir fry-- bell peppers, onions, broccoli, carrots, and cabbage on top, with rice on the bottom, and fry some sliced beef on the side, and splash (or, in my case, drown) the whole thing in soy sauce. Here's a picture from dinner tonight:

I'm so in love with this machine that I think I may actually force myself to wake up early enough to make it to the farmer's market on Wednesday morning and get some more ideas.

If you have any, I'd love to hear them!

Mother's Day Feast + Work Updates

In honor of Mother's Day, Alexandre and I made some of my grandmother's delicious recipes. We combined her bbq ribs with her chicken and dumplings stew (minus the chicken, since we already had ribs). DELICIOUS! We dove into it so quickly that I forgot to take a picture. And now we're lounging around in a food coma on this lazy Sunday afternoon.

It's "fall" here, whatever that means when you're about equidistant from an ocean and a rainforest. Our weather has been just lovely. It's a super beautiful day today, but after a 6-day workweek I'm just not motivated enough by the breeze or the sunshine to make myself presentable enough to go play outside. I'll settle for open windows and balcony doors.

In work news, private students are still flaky as ever, and so far none of my potential new students have followed through for me to even start using the contract I made up. Things are improving at the school, however. There has been some problems with teachers there, and for a while it was just me and one other (really bad) teacher trying to carry the school's entire course load. I didn't write anything about her on the blog (I try to keep it optimistic, and I save the ranting for the people who bother to email and IM me), but to make a long story short, she was pretty atrocious. Not only was her English horrible and her teaching skills deplorable, she was totally manipulaitve and coniving and was caught twice trying to lie to me and the boss to benefit herself at my (and the school's) expense.

Luckily, this boss is a bit smarter than Crazy Boss from the old school, so she hired 3 new people and then fired this girl. That now makes me "top dog" at the school, not just because I'm the trained native speaker, but because I've been working there for over a year now and I've proven to be reliable and students generally like me and don't drop out of my classes.

Our new semester is starting on June 3rd (my birthday!), and I get priority when choosing classes and schedules. So now.... I'm swinging back to the idea of focusing less on private students and more on the school. I know. I'm so indecisive. I make less per hour, but the stress level is about zero because I don't have to prepare anything, I don't have to drive, and, most importantly, I know how much my paycheck is going to be at the end of the month.

I have three good, solid, reliable private students, and the money I make from them is a nice extra coushin for my decent paycheck. I have three more who only come when they feel like it, and so I don't factor them into my salary when I'm trying to calculate bills and stuff. All that, combined with the occasional translation job, gives me a simple but comfortable living here.

---------
In other "news," this little beetle found its way into our apartment today:

Does anyone know what it is? I was convinced that it was poisonous and made Alexandre throw it off the balcony to protect the precious baby gatinha.

I'll leave you with a picture of her making her classic stupid/curious face:
Have a good day!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

It's not You, It's Me

My Portuguese teacher just quit on me!

I'm so sad. :(

She said it was because she has so many students right now, and since she's never taught Portuguese as a foreign language before, she has to spend too much time preparing stuff for me. All of her other students are English students, so she can just use the same things with them.

What if that's only part of the truth? Is it me? I do all my homework. I ask lots of questions. Maybe I'm annoying as a student. :(

She recommended one of her friends, but this friend doesn't speak English and has only taught Portuguese to Brazilian kids, AND she can't come at the same time. Doesn't sound promising.

:( Suck.
(As Patty would say.)

At least I have my book. Now, Alexandre has to go back to being my teacher, annoyed as he may become by trying to answer my grammar questions.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Fun with Gatinha

Ever since we got the cat fixed, she has been even more affectionate and desperate for attention than she was before. She follows us around the apartment and purrs all the time. She's so sweet.

"Have you come to give me kisses?"



But she's still her playful self, of course. One of my students bought a bag of toys for her dogs, and it came with some little bouncy balls that were too small for them, so she gave the bouncy balls to me. Gatinha loves them so much that we have to take them away from her at night so we can sleep. We also have to lock her out of the room at night because otherwise we are smothered in purring and kneading, and if we try to resist, she attacks our feet. (But, of course, when Alexandre has to work overnight at the hospital, I let her sleep in the room because I don't have to wake up early.)

She has learned that the sound of Alexandre's alarm in the morning means that food is coming. Unfortunately, Alexandre uses his cell phone as an alarm. So now, every time she hears the phone (in the morning or otherwise), she immediately starts meowing and wandering around anxiously. Pavlov sure was a smart guy.

Yesterday, we caught her enjoying the sun, reflecting upon life:


When she saw the string on the camera and the attention being lavished upon her, she got very curious:

And then her daddy picked her up to play:
...it's all fun and games until someone gets hurt. And now, Alexandre has a giant scratch along his wrist, and the cat has clipped nails.

She is so entertaining!

Sugar!

And this, right here, is how I lost so much weight in Brazil.

Notice that it has other categories at the top and the bottom of the page.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Update via Whatever was on My Camera

Not much going on here... it's a holiday weekend (May Day / Primeiro de Maio / Primer de Mayo / International Labor Day). We were planning to go to São Paulo for the weekend (mostly so I could say I had actually BEEN somewhere in Brazil apart from our ONE single 4-day vacation in the last year), but that didn't pan out, mostly because of money, and now we're back to visiting Alexandre's parents.

Tudo bem. That's fine. Kristin'll be here in 3 weeks and we're gonna do something then. :)

I've decided to try to entertain you with the pictures I found on my camera.

First, here's a picture from a bar that we went to for the soccer semi-finals (state tournament level... finals are this weekend, Brazil is even MORE soccer crazy right now, which I didn't know was possible):


Aaaandddd this is a giant grasshopper thing that was on our balcony and it was huge and disgusting and making the cat crazy, what with its being-out-of-reach-ness and all:

Here, we have a new product being marketed in the local supermarket: flavored milk!
You have your choice of peach or apple-flavored milk. Mmm... (...?)

This morning, we took the bus to visit Alexandre's parents. We typically take the overnight bus, (click that link to read an old entry about the overnight bus, and also to see some pictures of us where I am really chubby and we look REALlllyyy young). Since today was the holiday, we took the daytime bus and I actually got to see what the rest stop looks like.

It has quaint little cabins that you can rent (very much the opposite of an American rest stop):


and it also has a playground for the kids to get out all of their pent-up energy:


and behind the playground...
Green!
Here's a bird that we made friends with:

(Alexandre took these bird pictures... he's very talented at using the camera's zoom / not scaring the birds away)
And here's me with some palm trees:

I'm standing like that because I was trying to hide my popsicle behind my back. In case you're wondering, it wasn't a Magnum popsicle. And in case you're wondering about that, yes, it's a pretty entertaining misnomer, clearly developed by someone with little experience with the meaning of Magnum in English-speaking countries.

Alexandre wasn't big on the idea of taking cutesy pictures together in front of the Brazilian countryside backdrop, but he did agree to do his West Side pose (no idea where he learned that from... maybe the same place / rap song from which he learned how to say "cash money"):


Tough guy! (Also, our bus behind him).


Those are all the pictures I found that were worth printing. Maybe I'll have something more interesting to print later, but for now, it's just the daily grind (- California traffic + scary insects), and a pretty rest stop now and then. Oh, and re-runs of Rescue 911 and When Animals Attack, courtesy of the in-laws' fat cable package.
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