Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

I thought about just ignoring Halloween this year since we are in the midst of packing and getting ready to leave! But Alex would have none of that, so we are celebrating, but keeping it pretty low-key. Last week, we made a few homemade decorations for the apartment, and on Friday, we took the boys to a Halloween party at Alex's old school. They dressed up in their costumes, and I made cupcakes topped with candy-corn to take to the party. Alex enjoyed seeing all his friends again, and we were able to say goodbye to his teacher and give her the present we made for her. Yesterday, after we got home from church, the boys painted pumpkins and Rusty carved two jack-o-lanterns. And we'll take the boys trick-or-treating tonight -- Rusty called around and made arrangements with a few friends in the neighborhood!

A cowboy, a zebra, and a train conductor
Alex's costume -- a toy gun set and a cheap hat from the Chinese store, plus a bandana and Mommy's boots! Rusty gets all the credit for the creativity here. I told him he can be in charge of Halloween costumes from now on.
Pumpkin carving
Pumpkin painting

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Top Ten: Nyanya and Babu's Visit

At the end of last month, we enjoyed a two-week visit from my parents, known to our boys as Nyanya and Babu ("grandma" and "grandpa" in Swahili). We so enjoyed hosting them and introducing them to Benjamin and our life in Portugal! And we managed to pack a lot of fun experiences into the time they were here.

For the first few days, we showed Mom and Dad some of the sights in and around Lisbon. We spent an afternoon in Belém -- having lunch at one of our favorite restaurants, the Estrela de Belém, seeing the Monument to the Discoverers, touring the Jerónimos Monastery, and sampling yummy pasteis de Belém (the world's very best custard tarts).

The Monument to the Discoverers
Another day, we went to Sintra. While my parents toured the Pena Palace, Rusty and I hiked some of the trails on the palace grounds. We then met up for a picnic lunch on the grounds. Mom and Dad also toured the Moorish Castle before we headed home.

The Moorish Castle
On Saturday, with all the kids in tow, we went to Sobreiro. The boys enjoyed showing Nyanya and Babu around the craft village, and Mom even got to do a little souvenir shopping!

Nyanya and Stephen on the playground at the craft village
Sunday, of course, was church... followed by lunch at our favorite Indian restaurant.

Let's face it -- this is the real reason Nyanya and Babu came to Portugal!
Then, for the entire next week, we enjoyed a trip to Spain! Early Monday morning, we loaded up the van we had borrowed from our friends, Ricardo and Diana, and headed out -- destination: Málaga, Spain. Around lunchtime, when we were still in southern Portugal, the van started having problems, so we pulled over. After losing a few hours visiting several different mechanics to determine the problem, we realized that we were going to have to stay the night and continue on our way the next day. Ricardo drove down from Lisbon with the church van (bless him!), arriving later that night, and then took his van back to Lisbon to his mechanic there.

We found a quiet pension in the sleepy little town of Olhão in southern Portugal. It wasn't a bad place to be stuck for a night! The boys enjoyed playing in a nice park right on the waterfront; we had a yummy seafood dinner; and the next morning, we discovered what Rusty called "the best breakfast in Portugal" at the cafe around the corner from our pension. Then we were on our way again, finally arriving at our condos in Málaga later that afternoon.

We enjoyed swimming in the pool... hanging out on the beach... playing games... reading... I even managed to find some time to write on two different afternoons while everyone else was napping! We did most of our own cooking or got take-out, but one night, we all went out to eat.

Alex and Babu in the pool
At the beach
Mom and Dad wanted to visit Morocco, so they took a day-trip with a tour group, while our family headed for Gibraltar. I half-expected Gibraltar to be really lame, but it ended up being totally cool, and we wished we could spend more than just a few hours there! After we finally got across the border (we sat in traffic for an hour because a plane needed to take off and they had closed the road, which crosses the runway), Rusty decided he wanted to drive around the island -- just for fun! We had the quintessential British lunch of fish 'n chips at a fun pub called The Horseshoe. Then, we took a "taxi tour" of the Upper Rock Nature Reserve. Highlights included St. Michael's Cave, the Apes' Den, the Great Siege Tunnels, and of course, the Top of the Rock, with fabulous views! We were really glad we did the taxi tour rather than trying to hike everywhere with our three kiddos, plus our guide was pretty funny. The only thing Alex was disappointed about was that he didn't get to ride the cable car.

At the Apes' Den -- and no, I wasn't too happy about the monkey being on my back!
The view from the Top of the Rock
Another day, we all went together to the town of Ronda, one of the old frontier towns of Spain. The town straddles a deep gorge, and the two sides are connected by three gravity-defying bridges. It was a lovely town to just walk in, all the while admiring the stunning views. Rusty and the boys also toured the bullring, the oldest in Spain, while Mom and Dad and I did some souvenir shopping.

The New Bridge -- Ronda, Spain
Back in Lisbon, we spent the two days before Mom and Dad left doing more sight-seeing. We spent one day downtown, driving through the Alfama district, going to some of the miradouros (viewpoints) and having lunch near the Praça do Commercio. The next day, we visited the Tile Museum, a really fascinating place, and had a lovely lunch in the museum restaurant afterwards. Then, it was back home so they could pack for their flight the next day.

Looking over lovely Lisbon
For more pictures and commentary, you can click on either of the two links below to view my Facebook albums. These are public links, so even if you don't have Facebook, you should still be able to see the pictures.

Nyanya and Babu Visit Portugal
Spain and Gibraltar

Friday, October 14, 2011

This is How I Go to School (Part 2)

This is the second of two videos that show Alex going to school. (For the first video, click here.) One thing that the first video doesn't really show is any footage from the window during the bus ride. This is because, on the first day, when Rusty started to get on the bus with the camcorder, the bus driver told him to put it away! He was not at all happy about Rusty filming on the bus for some reason. On this day, Rusty waited until he got on the bus and then surreptitiously began filming after he and Alex were settled in their seats. In this video, you'll be able to see the city of Loures and some of its environs.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

This is How I Go to School (Part 1)

Rusty shot this footage of Alex on his way to school about this time last year. Turning it into a video and uploading it to Youtube so we could share it with others was always on my list of things to do, but for one reason or another, I never seemed to get to it. Lately, one of my ongoing projects has been creating and organizing our family videos from the backlog of footage that was on our camcorder. A lot has changed in our lives since Rusty took these videos. For one thing, we have a car now, so we don't have to ride the bus and walk to take Alex to school. For another, Alex isn't even attending Peixinho Azul anymore. Last month, he started Kindergarten at the local elementary school a short walk from our house.

I hope you enjoy this peek into part of daily routine while we lived in Portugal! Tune in for Part 2 tomorrow.

Friday, October 07, 2011

The First Month

Wow! It's hard to believe that our Benjamin will be six weeks old tomorrow. Time seems to go by so fast in the early weeks with a newborn, when you can almost see them changing before your very eyes. At the same time, there are moments when this phase seems interminable, usually in the middle of the night when I'm dealing with an infant who can't seem to stay asleep anywhere but right on my chest!

Rusty and I agree that Benjamin has definitely been our fussiest baby. Of course, after laid-back Stephen, any baby would seem fussy, but Benjamin can be pretty colicky. There are times when he grunts a lot and acts like his tummy hurts, and he spits up more than my other two. I haven't figured out yet if it's something I'm eating or not. I have basically stopped eating spicy food for awhile and have cut back the amount of caffeine I consume. That seems to be helping somewhat. I probably should give up caffeine entirely, but I just can't resist an occasional cup of iced coffee or a coke on pizza night!

In the last week, Benjamin has started to settle down a little bit. I wouldn't say he has any sort of routine yet, but he is starting to sleep longer stretches (in his own bed!), to self-soothe, and even to put himself to sleep on occasion. When he's awake, he is alert and interested in his surroundings. He loves to sit in his bouncy chair and watch the world go by! He nurses well, takes a paci, and sucks his fist on occasion. Alex and Stephen enjoy singing to Benjamin, and if he is fussy, he usually calms right down when he hears them.

At his first doctor's appointment when he was two weeks old, Benjamin had already gained over a pound. He has another appointment next week, and I am curious to find out how much weight he will have gained by then. He has already outgrown several of his newborn-size outfits and onesies. They certainly don't stay little long!

Here are a few memorable moments from Benjamin's first month:

First time in the sling
First Sunday at church. They said a very special prayer of blessing for Benjamin and our entire family.
Brotherly love
Napping with Daddy
Meeting Nyanya...
...and Babu!
First time in the Chicco front-pack. This photo was taken in front of the Cruz Alta (High Cross) on the grounds of the Pena Palace in Sintra.
One month old!

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Top Ten: Uses for the Bidet (Besides the Obvious)

Time to get this post out of the draft folder...

A common feature of many bathrooms in European homes is the bidet. The bathroom in our apartment has one, and while at first I saw it as a waste of precious space, I have discovered during our time living in Lisbon, that it is actually a very useful bathroom fixture! If you don't plan on using your bidet for its intended purpose, here's a list of top ten alternate uses:
  1. Bath toy storage -- This has been the main function of our bidet. It keeps the boys' bath toys from cluttering up our tiny bathtub/shower.
  2. Kiddie-height sink -- I never did this, but I heard of one family who put a bar of soap on the back of the bidet, and that was where their littles washed their hands. It kept them from having to climb up on a stool to reach the actual bathroom sink. Genius!
  3. Step-stool -- Alternatively, a child could use the bidet as a step-stool to reach the bathroom sink, which is what Stephen is doing in the picture below.
  4. Baby bathtub -- Our language teacher told us that she knows some people who have used the bidet to bathe their small babies. I haven't actually done this, since our kitchen sink is pretty large, and bathing Benjamin there keeps me from having to kneel down or bend over. But it could work.
  5. Doll bathtub -- If I had little girls, I'm sure that they would find the bidet the perfect place for giving their baby-dolls a bath! You could also use it as a water table.
  6. Receptacle for sandy shoes or swimsuits after a day at the beach -- I just throw our sandy things in the bidet and rinse them out later after everyone has had a shower.
  7. Overflow laundry hamper -- Now that there are five of us in this family, our laundry basket fills up rather quickly. The bidet works well to hold overflow dirty laundry, keeping it from piling up on the floor.
  8. Stand-in bucket -- For soaking stained clothing, or even for mopping the floor, the bidet is just the right height to function as a bucket.
  9. Counter-space -- Our bathroom doesn't have a counter, so flat surfaces to set things on are in short supply. Rather than putting my clean clothes on the (sometimes) wet, dirty bathroom floor while I take a shower, I just put them in the bidet.
  10. Foot bath -- Again, I have never used it this way, but I was sorely tempted during the final weeks of my pregnancy to use the bidet as a place to soak my swollen and aching feet.
And there you have it. Who knew this strange device had so many wonderful uses?