One sorry cookie slut

I spent a good deal of time this afternoon in the kitchen: baking, prepping, cleaning. I do enjoy that: I enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes when everything turns out just right. And I love making bread for many reasons: I know exactly what goes into it, I get to use my hands, it doesn’t take long (I have a rhythm when I make it), and it tastes DAMN good. Seriously, it is really hard to buy bread for sandwiches at the store–none of it tastes much better than cardboard.

Cute, but yucky to eat.


My bread is better


 

I also love to make cookies. I love to make cookies because I love to eat cookies. But I love to eat cookies so much, that pretty much any cookie will do. I am a cookie slut. I have thought long and hard about what makes the perfect cookie, and I have my methods and my secrets (most of them are not so secret). I always hope the cookies will turn out perfect, because I want to eat perfect cookies. I love to eat cookies.

Living in Brasil makes me sad about cookies sometimes. Their store cookies are different, but they are fine; that is not the problem. What makes me sad? I don’t have all of my cookie tools here, namely my kitchenaid mixer, and a suitable sifter. You would think the sifter would be easy enough to find or bring from the US, but somehow it has slipped through the cracks yet again, and I do not have one. I miss that. But even more, I miss my mixer. And it is ridiculously heavy, so bringing it here is kind of crazy. But I’m getting kind of crazy, so it just might happen next time. Why can’t I buy it here? Well, I could, I suppose, if I wanted to spend 1/3 of my monthy paycheck. “Oh, I’m sorry kids, we’re going kinda light on food these next few months, but hey, we do have that fancy mixer that Daddy’s been pining after!” Yeah, that quote is not going down in the annals of great parenting history.

Another thing that took forever today was getting home after my concert. Public transportation is pretty impossible on Sundays in Belo–life slows down, and the busses don’t come very often. Plus, there’s this HUGE fair every Sunday right in downtown (very close to where my concert was taking place), and it makes navigating that section of the city nearly impossible. And so here’s what my trek home looked like: about 15 minutes of hard walking with a cello on my back, waiting for about 15 minutes at the bus stop, a 20 minute bus ride (there was traffic, this ride should have taken only 7 minutes), and another 8 minute walk home. Interesting cultural observation at the bus stop: Brazilians (at least here in Minas) rarely speak up when someone is cutting in front of them. There were dozens of people waiting for taxis at the bus station, and when one would arrive, it didn’t matter how long you had waited; whoever got to the door first was the one who got in the taxi. But no one ever said “Hey! I was here before you!” Nope. That’s just the way things go. There has actually been a recent study about this phenomenon, and if you are interested you can look here.

That’s all I will say about that now, but I’m sure I will have more to say in the future. I’m never short on thoughts, or ideas. Just cookies. Always short on cookies. *sigh*

 

I REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEly want that

As I’m waiting on hold (again) to see if I can get someone to come to my house to set me up with new internet service, another quaint cultural observation is brewing, and so I will share. Perhaps one of the most useful things we learn as we are growing up is to keep on trying, don’t give up, “if at first you don’t succeed…” And seriously folks, this is great advice, but not advice that one has to use every moment of the day when growing up in the United States. Things come easily and quickly in the States: if I want something, and have the money, I can have it RIGHT NOW, and this value and possibility of immediacy is an essential part of American culture.

But not so in Brazil (and probably in many other Latin American countries), and before moving here I don’t think I could even begin to imagine the extended applications of simple perseverance in everyday life here. Wait…did I say “simple” perseverance? Sorry, I meant another adjective, maybe one that leans more towards the “eternal festering plague” type…well, I can’t find the exact word. Suffice it to say that things here don’t come easy: grocery store shopping, finding an apartment, setting up a cellphone, buying furniture, communicating with administrations, service at a restaurant… And this has lead to many frustrating (and wildly enthusiastically maddening) moments in my life. Yelling, tears, questions unanswered–its the stuff of movies folks. But hey, it’s life here, and I am learning.

I’m learning that if you want something, like say, a new couch, you have to be REALLY SURE you want that one. You will find that couch, pay for that couch (and it will NOT be cheap here, folks), and then you will wait, at least two weeks, more likely two months, for that couch to arrive. After all that, you don’t send it back if you don’t like the color; you take what you get, and you are happy that it FINALLY arrived. Or, like me, you call the internet company to schedule someone to come to your house to set up your service for the FOURTH TIME because you are sure you want that service. Yes, I have already given them all my information, and assured them that I want to PAY THEM MONEY, but somehow, completing my order has eluded them. That’s okay, I have found my zen place this time, and even though I had to wait on hold for a long time, I still spoke very kindly to the lady that assured me that THIS TIME, someone will definitely come. In the morning. On Tuesday. And if not? I’ll probably try again.

 

I wanna hold your hand

Oooh….New blog post! New category!!

“Meh,” you say, “what’s the big deal?”

I have done a lot of thinking about cultural issues in the past, even before moving to Brazil. I have to say I’m fascinated by culture and how it interacts with language, religion, and everyday life. I suppose this interest is part of why I was willing to live in a foreign country in the first place–I love discovering how people work and how that interacts with the forces that surround them: family, country, laws, faith, history, etc.

I’m going to try and keep things positive, but truthful here–“Culturally Incorrect” if you will. That is my attempt at a pithy name tonight. I tried.

The other day I was walking and thinking, being careful not to get hit by cars, and watching mothers and fathers do the same with their children hand in hand…I like that. I regularly like to walk holding my children’s hands–it’s a comfort to know that they are right with me, and there’s something significant and spiritual about the fact that we are “walking alongside one another”. And that got me thinking about the difference between the way we communicate something in English and in Portuguese. In English, when I ask my children to hold my hand, I say “Hold my hand, honey!” or something close to that. In Portuguese, it’s not much different, but literally translated it would sound more like “Give me your hand!” Ok, not so interesting on the surface maybe, but I look closer and see some important differences. The English phrase asks the child to use their hand to hold the adults, meaning that it is the child’s responsibility to do the holding, and that the hands, while together, will remain independent of one another–my hand will remain my property, and your responsibility will be to hold it. This type of language construction is an easy window into American culture: we value independence and individuals, and even within families there is a resistance to trust when it comes to valuable items (including body parts). I like this thinking–it’s clean, and it makes sense to me. The Portuguese begins similarly with a demand, but in this case, the demand is for the child to GIVE their hand to the parent, and implicit within the language here is that once the hand has been given, it is now my responsibility to take care of that hand. I’m not a native Brazilian, so I’m still trying to fully understand how this is reflected in the culture, but initially it seems to point to more of a willingness to trust, to be taken care of, and to nurture those around you. I see it on the bus, and encounter it in stores: it’s not the same “Can I help you?” bend-over-backwards-to-please-you consumerist mentality that you might find in the States, but it’s like I’m suddenly everyone’s favorite son, with all the good and bad things that come along with that. It can be way overwhelming at times, and I often mistake it for disrespect, but that’s more my own baggage than the fault of the culture. A whole country chock full of people looking to trust and be trusted–crazy for this independent skeptical American to wrap his head around, but in my best moments, I recognize it for what it truly is: beautiful.

 

Still Breathing

I know I have this blog and its about how I yell sometimes (or a lot…it depends) and that would make it seem like I’m fairly comfortable with that or even celebrating my vociferous eruptions. And I am comfortable. I like who I am. I’m passionate. And I’m flawed, and sometimes, if I’m honest, I also don’t like it. But isn’t that normal, or shouldn’t it be? I mean, if you’re honest with yourself, don’t you have things about you that are really YOU that sometimes you could do without?

Well I do.

I’m workin on patience and kindness. I love the TRUTH, but I don’t always dole it out with LOVE. But I’m workin on it.

Like this morning, my son was having the usual issues that come with and 8 year old with no sense of responsibility. I could have yelled: “GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER!” But I didn’t (and for the record, I do not swear at the kids). Instead, I had a patient conversation with him–three different times within one hour–about the importance of becoming more responsible. And then I told him that if he could grow in responsibility over the next week, then I would have to cut his hair. That was the holy grail. He loves his hair. He’s been forbidding that we cut it for months. I have to admit, it’s starting to look kinda cool. A friend came over tonight and told him that he looked very handsome with the hair. I hope I don’t have to cut it. But I will if he doesn’t grow in his responsibility–heck, it will be a great reminder: “Son, just think, as your hair grows, so will your responisibility.” Like I said, I have no trouble sticking to my word.

I have to say though, that one of the reasons yelling has become such a large part of my life is because it really seems to work. It gets the job done. When I speak, they listen. And sometimes it really IS important. But sometimes it isn’t, and well, let’s be honest, most times it isn’t so important that I need to send chills down someone’s spine. I’m learning. Workin on it.

And we’re all workin on it, right? I mean I hope so, because if we aren’t, well shoot, this world is even worse off than it seems. I read a blog today that makes me think some people are workin on it. Today was a pretty significant day in terms of civil rights, at least in the political world. No, this is not a political blog, but this is a speak it like it is blog, and so that’s what I will continue to do. Today, voters in N. Carolina passed an amendment to the constitution that will ban same-sex marriage in that state, and then a few hours later, President Obama spoke clearly and rationally in support of the right that gays and lesbians have to married. In the heat of this moment, I read a blog written by a gay Christian man who was calling his friends and his community in N. Carolina to respond with patience and love. Now there’s somebody who’s workin on it. And even President Obama, who has been a bit wimpy with words ever since he has been elected, said some pretty strong words today in support of some basic civil rights. He’s workin on it too.

Because we can’t be content to stay where we are, right? We gotta keep striving to be better, different, more, improved, larger, more intelligent, quicker, slower, louder, softer….. just not the same. Not stagnant. Luke-warm. Dead.