Thursday, March 18, 2010


Here is a short video tour of our apartment in Lisbon, for those who might be curious about where we live and what our home looks like. Hope you enjoy!

NOTE: For those reading this post on Facebook, you have to click on "View original post" (at the bottom of the note) in order to view the video.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Portuguese Classes Begin

So, we have survived our first week of Portuguese classes. In fact, we are midway through our second week, trying to keep on top of our homework, to stay afloat on a vast sea of vocabulary, and to train our mouths to make sounds they aren't at all used to making. We are being challenged and stretched as we take on this task of learning another language.

And yet, at the same time, we are finding it easier than we thought. My French (I took two years in high school) is coming back to me and proving very helpful, and Rusty is finding the little Spanish he knows comes in handy. (French and Spanish are both Latin-derived Romantic languages, like Portuguese.) But beyond that, our experience with Japanese makes any other language seem easy by comparison. I already feel like I am in Portuguese where I was in Japanese after 6 months, mainly because I can already read and write Portuguese. I don't have to learn two separate alphabets and a bunch of Chinese characters just to figure out what things are at the store, or read a menu, or read the songs at church. Never, never underestimate the importance of literacy in our modern society or when learning other languages!

We are in class for two hours every day, Monday through Friday. And each day, we also have work to do at home. Some of the work is book work -- conjugating verbs, translating sentences, memorizing vocab, listening to and repeating mini-conversations. But there are other things that our teacher also considers "homework" -- like reading Portuguese children's books aloud (which will also help Alex with his language acquisition), using the Portuguese we are learning in class as we are going about our daily lives, even watching Portuguese television! She actually encouraged us to pick a Portuguese soap opera to watch every day (they are easy to follow because of the melodrama and overacting), and when Alex is watching kids' shows in Portuguese, even if we are doing other things and not giving our full attention to the television, we can count that as time spent in exposure to the language. The important thing now is to immerse ourselves as much as possible in the sounds and get our ears used to hearing it. I am already finding that I am able to pick out words and hear where sentences begin and end, where at first, it was all just a jumble of sounds. So, that is encouraging. And then there are other days when I can't even order a cup of coffee properly or remember the correct response to "How are you?" Ah, the ups and downs of learning a second language!

We really like our teacher, Eunice Carapeto. She expects us to work hard and treat language study seriously, but she is also understanding of the fact that we have a family and therefore aren't able to give as much time to our studies each day as a single person or a couple without children. On our first day, she told us to be sure to reserve a day every week for resting and relaxing (so we don't burn out), and not to change a lot about our family life just because of language learning. She also told us to keep a hobby because learning a language can be a frustrating and humiliating experience, so every once in awhile, it's nice to do something you are actually good at! I sure am glad I brought a few scrapbooking supplies and an album to work on. All in all, really sound advice for people living abroad and trying to learn another language.

Eunice has told us that around the 3-month mark is when we will notice that we are able to actually carry on a meaningful conversation. We so look forward to that day. For now, we stumble around, butchering the language and risking being laughed at, because there really is no other way to learn. We have to become like little children again and be willing to make lots of mistakes in order to make forward progress.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Life at Eleven Months

Having an eleven-month old means that we're just a few short weeks away from the big first birthday. As April 6th rapidly approaches, I can't help but reflect on where our family was this time last year... living with my parents in Michigan, unemployed, waiting on a sponsoring church, wondering if we would ever get to Portugal, let alone Angola. It's pretty amazing what God has done in just a few short months (although, I confess that it makes me tired just thinking about all the traveling and moving we have done in Stephen's first year of life)!

Of course, the major milestone in Stephen's eleventh month was his first international trip. Developmentally, he is pulling up and cruising along the furniture. He can stand alone, but he has yet to show any interest in taking steps, even with help. He would much rather crawl... it's faster! No new teeth yet, although I'm pretty sure the top ones are about to make their appearance any day now. He eats voraciously and drinks water from a straw cup. He loves balls, playing with Alex, riding in the Kelty, reading books, and opening drawers and cupboards all over the house. He is very curious about the bathroom, and we have to keep the door closed all the time, or he will go in there and pull up on the toilet (or, since we live in Europe now, the bidet). He has become quite the ham -- whenever he sees the camera come out, he breaks into the biggest grin. One nap a day is the norm now, and this makes it easier for Rusty and me to have focused time for Portuguese homework in the afternoons.

I love the picture below, even though it's a little unfocused. It captures Stephen's great smile with the two little teeth on the bottom, and he is wearing a Portland Trailblazers sweatsuit that used to belong to his cousins, Robbie and Johnny!

Friday, March 05, 2010

Our FOUR-Year Old!

It's hard for me to believe that Alex is 4 years old! True to form, we are celebrating yet another birthday in yet another city. As Rusty said, just before we left Nashville, "Alex has moved more times than he's had birthdays." For some reason, that made me sad, but I'm holding out hope for permanency for our family someday.

Alex turned 4 on February 28th, which also happened to be a Sunday, our first Sunday in Portugal. Since we knew it would be a busy day, and since we had his party before we left Nashville, we had told Alex not to expect much in the way of birthday celebrations. We promised him a family party with cake and presents later in the week. So, imagine our very great surprise when the church had a surprise cake for him after the service! I wish we had a picture of his face as the entire Lisbon Church of Christ sang a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday" in Portuguese. Unfortunately, neither Rusty or I knew it was coming either, and we had left our camera at home.

After church, we had a late lunch at a nearby restaurant, and then made our way home. There are no evening services, so we enjoyed some family time, complete with chocolate crepes just before bed. (Don't be too impressed -- they were frozen. All I did was warm them in the microwave and put the strawberries on top.)

One INCREDIBLE four-year old!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Hello from Lisbon!

Or I guess I should say, “Olá de Lisboa!” We have been here exactly one week now. We left the United States last Wednesday evening and, after a layover in Frankfurt, arrived in Lisbon the following afternoon. It was a fairly uneventful journey, for which we are thankful. Both the boys were sick, Alex with an ear infection and Stephen with a bad cold, but they still travelled well. We were met at the airport by a veritable welcoming committee consisting of our teammates, Nathan and Jordan, our language teacher, Eunice, and the minister at the Lisbon Church of Christ, Ricardo, along with his family and the church van (to help with hauling our embarrassingly massive amounts of luggage from the airport to our new home).

Our apartment is in a suburb of Lisbon called Loures. (Actually, the name of our town is Santo Antonio dos Caveleiros, which in my opinion is a ridiculously long name for a town, but whatever.) It is a 3-bedroom, one bath furnished apartment on the second floor (which in Europe is considered the first floor), and I think we will be very comfortable here. We live right next to a very pretty park – we actually look down on it from our bedroom windows. Ana, the lady who will be babysitting for us while Rusty and I are in classes, lives in our building. She speaks English and has already been so helpful as we settle in here. We are about a 10-minute bus ride away from the school and a large mall/shopping center… and there is also an IKEA going in very close to us! I will put some pictures up soon, so you can have a “virtual tour” of our new home.

It took us a few days to adjust to the different time zone. We are 6 hours ahead of U.S. Central time here, so the boys, especially Stephen, were waking up at odd times during the night for awhile. After a week, we are all sleeping better at night. We are also adjusting to apartment living again -- I had forgotten how noisy it was! The other night, the neighbors upstairs were doing some remodeling in their bathroom – at 11:30 p.m.! And the neighbors below us yell at each other a lot. I’m sure after we’ve been here awhile, we won’t even notice the noise anymore, but it is going to take some getting used to. I’m adjusting to things like hang-drying all our laundry again, washing all my dishes by hand again, and grocery shopping and cooking in a foreign country with foreign ingredients (always completely overwhelming to me for the first few weeks).

We have been busy unpacking and putting things away in our new home and exploring our neighborhood and figuring out where things are – like the closest stores, bank, and post office (all within walking distance of our apartment). We’ve tried a few nearby restaurants, and we’re learning the bus lines, and which busses we can ride with our bus pass (and which ones we’ll be kicked off of). We will start language lessons on Monday. At Eunice’s suggestion, we decided to take a week to settle in before beginning our lessons. She says families with kids tend to have a better adjustment if they do this. And, since she has taught over 300 missionaries, I am going to trust that she knows what she is talking about!

On Sunday, we worshipped with the Lisbon Church of Christ for the first time. We were welcomed warmly and look forward to building relationships with the Christians there in the coming months. It takes us about 45 minutes to get from our apartment to the church. We take a bus into Lisbon and then ride the subway a few stops. Alex, of course, loves riding public transportation! I wonder how long it will take before it becomes old hat to him. He has already made several friends close to his age at church, and I am glad for that. Not only is the social interaction good for him, but I think having friends his own age will really help with his language acquisition.

Stephen, so far, has been an absolute delight to travel with. He is so mellow and laid back, and he smiles at everyone – and of course everyone smiles back! When we are out and about, Rusty usually carries Stephen in the Kelty, and he loves to just look all around, or nap if he’s tired.

So, there you have it – a glimpse into our first few days of life in another foreign country. I’ll try to get some pictures up soon – although, truth be told, we don’t have many yet since we haven’t been doing very much in the way of “touristy” things.