Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Top Ten: Things I'll Miss About Portugal

It's hard to believe that we are winding down our time in Portugal. Just two more nights in our apartment before we board a plane to cross the wide ocean yet again. I actually feel pretty good about where we are and what we still have left to do, which is a first for me. At this stage of the game, I'm usually panicking because there is so much left to do and so little time to do it in! But this time, we've somehow managed to get mostly packed, and have just a few errands left to run and some cleaning to do before we're ready to go. I might actually even get some sleep the night before we leave! This afternoon, Rusty took Alex to the Oceanario, which he has been begging to do one last time before we go. It was supposed to be a family outing, but Stephen is coming down with a cold, so I stayed home with the younger two while Rusty and Alex have some father-son time.

While the house is quiet with napping children, I thought I would take the opportunity to sneak in a blog post before we leave. It only seemed appropriate to pay tribute to the country that has been our home for the past nearly two years by sharing some of the things that I'll miss when we're gone:
  1. Coffee -- I'll be honest -- Portuguese coffee just makes Starbucks' drinks seem even more overpriced than they already are. For around 1 euro (more or less depending on the type of drink you have), you can get a decent cup of coffee at any café (and there is one of those on nearly every street corner). The Portuguese like to drink shots of espresso from tiny little cups. I never got into that, but I enjoy a meia de leite (literally, "half of milk"), which is basically a latte -- espresso with steamed milk. Rusty is partial to the galão, which is the same thing as a meia de leite, only larger and served in a glass instead of a cup.
  2. Fresh bread -- The bread here is amazing! We can walk to three different cafés in our neighborhood, where they churn out their own freshly baked loaves every day. Rusty likes to go early in the day when the bread is still warm from the oven. Why buy factory-made bread when you can buy this?
  3. Pasteis -- Or, pastries, as we would say in English. The same cafés where we buy our bread also offer a wide array of delectable pastries to satisfy your sweet tooth. My favorite is the pastel de nata, or custard tart, but I also like the croissants filled with Nutella!
  4. Frango de Churrasco -- This is chicken, cooked on the grill, and it is yummy! We like ours with extra piri piri, a hot red pepper sauce. There is a great little joint, just down the hill from our apartment, called Princesa dos Frangos (we lovingly refer to it as the Chicken Princess), that turns out the juiciest, most flavorful chicken you have ever tasted. I requested this as my "welcome home meal" when Benjamin and I came home from the hospital.
  5. Yogurt -- I don't know what it is, but the yogurt here is just so much better than American yogurt! The Portuguese take their yogurt seriously -- at Continente, the big mega-store where we do a lot of our grocery shopping, there is an entire aisle (both sides) dedicated to yogurt. It was a bit overwhelming at first! But we soon discovered our favorites. Mine is the peach/passion fruit blend that we can buy in big tubs at Lidl, a German chain. The boys like to drink the liquid yogurt for breakfast in the morning.
  6. Oranges -- Portuguese oranges are so sweet and juicy. It's probably something to do with the Mediterranean climate they're grown in. And at many restaurants, you can order a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, usually for just a little more than what a soda would cost. Yes, please!
  7. Tiles and cobblestones -- The cobblestone streets and sidewalks give Lisbon such an old-world feel. And I've always been fascinated by the colors and patterns of the tiles that cover everything from buildings to fountains to tunnels to the interior of the metro stations.
  8. Foliage -- I was delighted to make the discovery after arriving here that Lisbon has many beautiful jacaranda trees! Other tropical foliage like bougainvillea abounds. Seeing these plants and trees brings back happy memories of my childhood growing up in Kenya.
  9. Our neighborhood -- I really love the fact that we live within walking distance of everything we need in our daily life -- bank, post office, supermarket, café, pharmacy, clinic, school. There's even an urgent care facility just up the street from our house! I love the park that backs up against our apartment building. Listening to the waterfall when the windows are open is so soothing and peaceful. I love that there's an IKEA close by, and that the beach is only a 30-minute drive away.
  10. People -- I saved the best for last, because aren't the people what you miss the most about any home? Ana, who has cared for Stephen during our language lessons, loved him like he was her own, and gone above and beyond the "call of duty" in so many ways. Eunice, so much more than a language teacher, she was also a counselor, confidant, and friend. And of course, our Lisbon church family -- so many people come to mind who opened their hearts and their homes to us, who were patient with us while we were learning their language, who taught and befriended our children, who joyfully helped us welcome our third son. They have loved and blessed us in so many ways.
We've lived in Portugal for a little less than two years now. At first, it was difficult for me to feel like this place was home. Mostly because I came into it thinking we'd only be here for 9-10 months. It's hard for me to really settle and feel at home somewhere when I know I'm only there temporarily. I felt like a perpetual tourist. I also didn't have a lot of my "stuff," the things that for me, help a place feel like my home rather than just some run-of-the-mill furnished apartment -- pictures for the walls and things like that. But slowly, as a few months turned into a year and then a year became nearly two years, that sense of home started to grow in me. I was walking around our apartment this morning, taking stock of what we still have left to pack, and thinking what a cozy home this has been for us. We've made some good memories here, had a lot of people in and out, celebrated Christmas and birthdays, instituted some fun family traditions, even welcomed another baby! I feel truly blessed to have spent nearly two years of my life living in Lisbon, Portugal. It has become our home, one of the many homes that we've had through the years, and we will miss it, maybe not in the same way that we miss Japan or even Oregon, but we'll miss it, nonetheless.

It seems appropriate to close with one of my favorite quotes, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson: "I am a part of all that I have met; yet all experience is an arch wherethrough gleams that untravelled world whose margin fades for ever and for ever when I move.”

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Second Month

For me, the second month is usually when I feel like I finally find my new groove with my new baby. A routine begins to emerge. Certain tasks become automatic. I've figured out what he likes, what he needs, and when. I have time and energy once again for things besides baby. Life starts to feel normal again.

Benjamin is now sleeping in his own bed most all night. He still wakes up once or twice to eat, but he usually goes right back to sleep without any fussing. Recently, he even slept the night through -- from 10:00 p.m. until almost 6:00 a.m. I had forgotten how great several hours of uninterrupted sleep could feel! His daytime routine is still a bit unpredictable, but that is probably related to the fact that our own schedule is pretty unstructured right now. Whatever sleep-wake rhythm I take the time to help him establish now is only going to get messed up with the upcoming transition back to the States. So Benjamin sleeps whenever he's tired and wherever we happen to be at the time -- at home, at school, in the car, at church. He doesn't seem to mind.

At his 2-month check-up this week, Benjamin weighed in at 5.7 kilos (about 12.5 pounds). He's developing fat rolls and a muffin top -- obviously, this kid loves to eat! I went ahead and moved him into 3-6 month size clothes, mainly so that I could leave behind all his newborn and 0-3 month clothes. The less we have to haul back from Portugal, the better. He's become quite smiley and is starting to interact and coo more -- so fun! He still takes a paci, but he also enjoys sucking on his fist, and once or twice, he's managed to get his thumb in his mouth. Maybe we'll have another thumb-sucker?

Here's Ben's two-month picture. Adorable, no?