Iguazu Falls

We were excited that we got to sit together on the plane! We learned that in July many South American schools have off, so it is high season for traveling. We lucked out that we just missed it! We had an evening flight, but the babies did pretty well. We flew into Foz do Iguaçu (Brazil) then drove to our B&B in Puerto Iguazú (Argentina). We were greeted with appetizers, caipirinhas, and a sweet old dog. The next morning we sat on the deck watching hummingbirds, while we ate a breakfast of fruit salad and toast with lots of jam options.

On our first day, we decided to go to Argentine side, which offers close up views of the waterfalls. We decided to start our day with a 2 hour round trip hike to a little waterfall. We didn’t see anyone on the way there, and Naomi talked the whole walk back to scare off any jaguars or bobcats. Then we took the train to the Garganta del Diablo. After walking 20 minutes on a catwalk over the river, we arrived at a spectacular view of Garganta del Diablo. Derek and I were astounded by the view. He said it was one of the few times that a tourist attraction has outdone his expectations. Next the babies took a nap while we walked the Circuito Superior (above the falls) and Circuito Inferior (at the base of the falls). We just missed getting to go on a ferry to visit Isla San Martín, so in retrospect, we should have changed the order of some of our activities. Afterwards, we were quite hungry and quite tired from our 12+ miles of walking in the sunny 80 degree temperature, so we were really looking forward to some empanadas in downtown Puerto Iguazú. However, we were sad to learn that this town takes its siesta seriously, and all of the restaurants close between 3 or 4 until 7 or 8.

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On our second day we visited the Itaipu Dam, Parque das Aves, and Brazil side of the waterfall. The dam was fairly boring, but it was pretty incredible how much energy it generates for Paraguay and Brazil. We next visited the bird park, and we didn’t have high hopes, but the toucan and macaw exhibits made it worth it. In both, we walked into a large exhibit where birds were flying above us and landing next to us. I had never seen a toucan in person before! The parrots were beautiful and quite loud. It was amazing to watch them fly and hear them talk. The girls loved this exhibit! The waterfall experience on the Brazil side was very different from the Argentine side. After buying our tickets, we had to take a bus into the park. Immediately after getting off the bus, there was an incredible panoramic view of Isla San Martín and the falls surrounding it. As we walked along the trail, there continued to be spectacular views which showed just how big the falls really are. Finally, at the end of the trail, we walked out on a metal walkway to view Salto Floriano, which sprays a ton of water. It was incredible to see the pure joy on the girls’ faces as they got soaked! After we got back to our B&B, we ordered empanadas from a local restaurant for the second evening in a row.

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Salta

We flew to Salta after our adventure in Iguazu. The Puerto Iguazú airport was tiny and security opened 45 minutes before the flight. Derek and I both had rows to ourselves, so the babies were able to take their morning nap.

Our first day was a half day, so we took the teleferico to get a view of the city. We were surprised that Salta is much bigger than we imagined. Then, we walked to the center of town and visited the Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña. This museum houses the mummified bodies of three children who were Incan sacrifices and the artifacts that were buried with them, as well as the mummified remains of a mummy who was the victim of grave robbers.

On our second day, we rented a car and drove to Cafayete. The drive was beautiful, and the mountains look similar to the painted desert. We didn’t realize how long it would take to get to Cafayete, though, and we had planned to drive to Cachi before heading back to Salta. Since we would not have time to do this, we decided to visit two wineries – Bodega Piatteli and Bodega Vasija Secreta – for tours and tastings. This region has some of the lowest latitude and highest altitude of any wineries and is known for torrontés, merlot, and cabernet. Piatteli was a newer winery, and the tasting was fun because we were able to drink varietals from their Salta and Mendoza vineyards and compare them.

On our third day, we took a tour of Salinas Grandes, San Antonio de los Cobres, and Puramarca. It seemed like the tour description really over-exaggerated the highlights of this tour. First we stopped at Santa Rosa de Tastil for bathrooms, a small museum, and handicrafts. Then we visited San Antonio de los Cobres  for a long lunch. We then visited the salt flats, which were definitely the highlight of the trip. It was white everywhere with sparkling salt pools and mountains in the distance. Afterwards, we drove up winding mountains to an altitude of 4170 mt. We felt very bad because the girls got sick multiple times on the way up and down this mountain. Luckily babies are resilient, and they recovered quickly. We were really excited to see the Cerro de los Siete Colores, so we were pretty disappointed when the visit to this highly recommended location was just pointing it out of the bus window (and of course we were on the wrong side of the bus). We arrived at our final advertised stop – Puramarca – which was described as an interesting town due to its Bolivian feel and lots of handicrafts, but we weren’t super impressed. Overall, we thought this was a really long day for some scenery that was similar to our drive to Cafayete with winding roads and altitude that made the girls sick, and just a lot of stops to buy souvenirs. We even made an extra stop 15 minutes after we left Puramaraca at an extra souvenir superstore…

On our fourth and final day, we did a free walking tour of Salta. Beforehand we walked into the Cathedral Basilica de Salta. On the tour we walked around Plaza 9 de Julio, Centro Cultural América, and Cabildo (town hall). Then our tour took us over to Iglesia San Francisco and the Basilica Menor y Convento. The nuns at the convent are cloistered. We also walked to the monument to Güermes. There was some interesting information about the architecture in Salta, the history of some of the buildings, and the street numbering. However, it really seemed like there was not as much interesting information as on the Rio free walking tour we did. We spent some time relaxing in the garden at our hotel and then flew to Buenos Aires. My sinuses were ready to leave this dusty desert!

 

11 Months Old!

The babies handled all of their travels fairly well! It is a lot to ask 11 month olds to travel for 2 weeks from hotel to hotel and activity to activity and then travel 19+ hours home and switch to a time zone 4 hours different. I think we were all ready to be home!

This month they enjoyed giving high fives, tilting their heads side to side, and getting sprayed by waterfalls. They have lots of teeth now – 4 on the top and 3 on the bottom. Naomi will sometimes offer to share her food with us, and she has now joined Norah in pulling herself to stand but still infrequently. It is amazing to see them recognizing more and more words. They will clap when you say “clap” and sometimes wave when you say “hi,” “hola,” “oi,” “bye,” or “tchau.”

We had a doctor appointment when we got back because we missed our 9 month appointment. At 11.5 months, Norah weighed 16 lb 13.5 oz (3rd %). Naomi weighed 16 lb 12.5 oz (just below 3rd %). Norah is 29.2 inches tall (62%), and Naomi is 28.87 inches tall (57%). They both passed their iron tests!

Childcare in Seattle: Hosting an Au Pair

If you google “childcare costs in Seattle,” you will be inundated with articles about how Seattle has some of the least affordable childcare in the country. Thus, when my husband and I decided that I would go back to teaching this fall, I was worried about finding affordable quality childcare for our one-year-old twins. Due to my concerns, I spent hours breaking down the pros and cons of the various childcare options available in our area, as well as the costs of each. Cost was important for us, because as a teacher, it would be easy to end up paying more for childcare than I make.

Childcare Options: Nanny, Daycare Center, In Home Daycare

As a former nanny, I was well aware of what a nanny would cost. A nanny for two children in Renton would be $15-18/hour on the low end. This doesn’t include the taxes we would have to pay as an employer. We would be looking at $28,000-33,500 before taxes for the 43 weeks of the school year. 43 weeks because it is fairly standard in the competitive Seattle nanny market to offer guaranteed hours for the nanny – paying for weeks when I have off – as many nannies cannot afford to take unpaid vacations when their employers are on vacation and therefore have to scramble to find fill in jobs. At a cost of 80-100% of my take home salary, a nanny did not seem like the option for us. A nanny share (2 families sharing a nanny at one or both houses) would be about 2/3 the cost, but nanny shares usually include little to no household chores. In addition, with three or more kids within a few months of age, it is a lot harder for the nanny to get the children out of the house. Daycare centers would have more oversight and some socialization but lack some of the personal attention of a nanny. For example, daycare centers typically do not follow a custom nap schedule, they would not allow the girls’ to stay in their normal environment, and there would not be any child related chores being done at our house. A daycare center would cost us about $28,000 a year or about 80% of my net income. Home daycares (or family daycares) are usually a good middle option. These are exactly what they sound like – daycares that people run out of their homes (some licensed and some unlicensed) and usually they take less children than a daycare center. Some home daycares will work with the babies’ schedules and are usually cheaper than a daycare center; however, home daycares usually do not have as much oversight as daycare centers.

The Best Childcare Option for Us: Au Pair

A final option that we considered was an au pair. An au pair would cost $19,750 plus additional expenses including room and board, phone, car insurance, and driver’s license fees. Even though each au pair agency structures their fees differently, in reality the total cost is pretty much the same across the board. We decided to go with Cultural Care Au Pair, as we had heard positive reviews from families in Seattle. An au pair would provide many of the benefits of a nanny (care provided in our home, the girls’ schedule would be followed, some child related chores would be done, etc.). My husband and I had discussed au pairs before we even had children. We realized the importance of exposing children to other languages and cultures at an early age, which really is one of the greatest benefits of an au pair. However, it is important to note that the Department of State has very specific requirements about how many hours an au pair can work. Au pairs are allowed to work up to 45 hours per week and no more than 10 hours per day. Au pairs must also receive one and a half days off per week and one weekend off per month. They also must receive two weeks of paid vacation.

Costs and Fees for Cultural Care Au Pair:

$75 application fee (often there is a code to waive this)
$300 processing fee (once you match with an au pair)
$300 domestic transportation fee (NYC to SEA varies from $100-$300 depending on your location)
$8595 program fee
$195.75 weekly stipend (paid directly to au pair for 51 weeks)
up to $500 in educational costs (The Department of State requires au pairs to take 6 credit hours (not online) at an accredited secondary institution)

Total cost: $19,753.25 (we received $500 off due to a corporate discount through my husband’s company so make sure to check if your employer has a similar discount)

Other costs:

  • $89 WA driver’s license + $65-80 for driving tests (OR the au pair could pay for her own international driver’s license if your insurance doesn’t require her to have a U.S. state license)
  • $30 phone activation fee (SIM card is free with activation) for our au pair’s iPhone + $20/month on our current plan which has unlimited text and talk in the U.S. (Other carriers have pay as you go for an average of $30-$50/month depending on the amount of texts, calls, and data)
  • $30/month car insurance increase (Some companies charge a fee for having an international license instead of a US license)
  • ??? increase in groceries and utilities

As we spent the summer in Brazil for my husband’s job, before we filled out our application and profile, we talked to a Seattle area local care consultant (LCC) to make sure we would be able to complete this process while living abroad. We were a bit worried as the Department of State requires a home visit (to make sure the au pair’s room is private and contains a bed, dresser, and closet) and an in person interview. The LCC assured us that it would be fine to do our interview online via Skype, but based on the timing we only had one and a half weeks to match with an au pair if we wanted her to arrive to our home on August 18th. We filled out the application questions and completed the lengthy process of creating an in-depth profile. We wanted to be honest so that a potential au pair would know if she would be a good match for our family. After connecting with the consultant for the Renton/Newcastle area, she told us that we actually could not complete the home tour and interview while abroad. However, she followed up with the account services department who said they could make an exception, so we completed our hour-long family interview through Skype and my husband’s parents, who are staying at our house, agreed to give the home tour.

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The Matching Process

We began to look for an au pair, knowing that we wanted a female Brazilian au pair who had experience with 0-2 year olds. However, initially we did not completely understand the process, so the beginning of our search was a bit frustrating. As we were not in the U.S., we did not get a lot of the support phone calls with the au pair agency to answer questions and get help from a matching specialist. After a period of trial and error, we finally figured out the process. We filtered for female Brazilian applicants who were 20+ years old (au pairs can be 18-26), who had childcare experience with 0-2 year olds, had at least 2 years driving experience, were not vegetarian, and had similar interests to us (were active and enjoyed the outdoors). This resulted in around 20 au pairs to manually screen. The process was quite time consuming as it was all host family led (you must screen candidate profiles, then “hold the au pair” so you can get her contact info, then ask her to review your profile and set up an interview if she feels you are a match). We had first interviews with five au pairs, second interviews with three au pairs, and a third interview with one au pair. During this period, we felt like we were constantly emailing questions, Skyping/FaceTiming interviews, and texting through WhatsApp, which is a popular messaging app in Brazil as it is cheaper to use data than texts. However, this was necessary in order to get to know the au pairs as well as possible during our short timeline. If we had had more time, we probably would have interviewed some of the au pairs a few more times and added some additional au pairs to our interview list. The most important things for us when we were interviewing au pairs were: ability to keep the girls safe and happy, driving skills (as we live in a suburb this is important for the au pair to get to her classes, meet up with friends, explore our area, and take the girls to play dates and activities), willingness to schedule activities around the girls’ nap schedule, English language skills, and our ability to connect with her (since she will be living with us and effectively become a part of our family).

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We matched with a young lady – Maria – who is 22 years old, has a degree in gastronomy, is from Santa Catarina, speaks English well enough that we can communicate, has similar interests to us, and we feel will be a great au pair. Our LCC was on vacation, so we informed someone else at Cultural Care Au Pair of the match on the deadline day for our preferred arrival date.

At this point our frustration hit a high point. After doing everything to ensure that we would be able to welcome our au pair on August 18th, we were told that again we had been misinformed! We were informed that a Skype interview was not an acceptable option. Thus, we would have to complete the interview and home tour after our arrival in the U.S. on August 11th, and we wouldn’t be able to host an au pair until September 1st. We had now been told three different things concerning the interview and if we would be able to host our au pair starting on the 18th by three different people. After speaking with one of the directors at Cultural Care Au Pair, we were able to get it worked out, and they agreed to let us complete our home tour and interview (again) on August 12th. Cultural Care Au Pair approved our au pair match, and we paid the processing fee. After that payment, we could not believe how fast the process moved. Our au pair’s flight to the U.S. was booked the next day and a flight to Seattle the day after that. Four days after we paid our fee, Maria was able to schedule her visa appointment.

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Why Cultural Care?

Obviously, we are in a unique situation, as we were trying to find childcare while abroad and on a short timeline. This posed some challenges, but we were also able to meet our au pair when she and her mom came to São Paulo for their visa appointments. When I asked Maria why she decided to use Cultural Care Au Pair even though it was one of the most expensive agencies for au pairs, she said it is because they have some of the most support for au pairs and a large number of families. (Also, Cultural Care Au Pair recruits heavily in Brazil. Of the 513 au pairs who were looking for families, 99 were from Brazil, 99 were from Columbia, and 94 were from Thailand. I have also heard that Cultural Care Au Pair is unique in that they set up actual offices in each country they recruit from.) I imagine we might have had a much better experience and more support if we had done the matching process while in the U.S., and if we decide to host another au pair after Maria, I will be interested to compare our experiences. Other families who have used Cultural Care Au Pair along with other agencies have shared similar sentiments to Maria from the family side – Cultural Care Au Pair by far provides the most support, especially during the matching process or when there is a need to rematch.

Adventures in Brasil: Salvador

The weekend after out trip to Rio, we rented an AirBnB in Salvador with the other 3 Americans who are in Brazil for the same program as Derek. Salvador is known for its colored houses, which reminded me of Valparaíso. We didn’t realize that the weekend we were visiting was the holiday for São João. On Friday afternoon, we walked over to the historic district, which was decorated with colorful flags and ribbons. We visited the Igreja da Ordem Terceira do Carmo (which boasts a carving of Jesus inlaid with 2000 rubies), Largo do Pelourinho (the plaza where slaves were once whipped), and the Igreja de Sao Francisco (which is famous for its tiles imported from Portugal, the amount of gold leaf, and the paintings on the wooden ceiling). We also wanted to visit the Mueso Afro-Brasileiro, but it was closed due to the holiday. That evening, we walked back to this area in order to take part in the feira. There was live music (we wished we had baby hearing protection) and lots of street food. Michelle had a caipirinha (the national drink which is made with cachaça [fermented sugar cane juice] sugar, and lime), and we shared salgado tapioca (like a tapioca crepe with savory chicken and cheese fillings), a plate of churrascaria style meats with typical Brazilian sides like farofa and rice, and coxinhas (chicken surrounded with potato and rolled in breadcrumbs then fried).

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On Saturday we went to breakfast at a typical by the kilo restaurant (we ate for less than $10), and then we tried to visit the Feira do São Joaquin – the largest outdoor market in the state of Bahia with produce, food, jewelry, crafts, religious items, etc. – but it was closed for the holiday.

Many people questioned our decision to move to Brazil for several months, especially with the babies. In the U.S., you hear so much negativity about the violence, drug, and disease problems of Brazil. The reality is that by Brazilian standards most Americans are very well off. This allows us to stay in hotels that are in very nice and safe parts of towns. We also make a point of being well informed about which neighborhoods are safe to visit, and we try to avoid going anywhere but the safest areas after dark.  Overall it is possible to have a very positive and safe experience here. The stories far outdo the reality.

All of that said, Salvador was one of the first times where we felt we made a bad decision that could have put us in a dangerous situation. Since it was a holiday, nearly every retail business was closed. We decided to walk the 2ish miles from our AirBnB to the Feira do São Joaquin. Since everything was closed, this meant we were walking pretty much alone on streets for most of the time and eventually passed under an elevated highway that was sheltering  a small homeless population, as well as passing in front of the entrance to a favela. This was not a good decision. You should not put yourself in a position where you are alone like this. When we got to the market, it was also closed and the few adults around were throwing large fireworks into traffic, seemingly with the intention of stopping traffic. We quickly got an Uber out of there. We definitely learned some lessons about having a plan and understanding our walking routes before heading out. Fortunately all ended well.

After we arrived back to the safer tourist district, we ate a relaxed lunch of Carne del Sol (a typical northeastern dish of salted beef left to cure outside) and Guaraná (a soda popular in Brazil). That evening, Derek’s coworkers babysat while we ventured out to the historic district on our own. It was much more crowded and the food was not as good as the previous night. We tried some Afro-Brasilian food which we only ate one bite of, as well as fried cheese, more coxinha, another plate of churrascaria style meats with typical Brazilian sides, and a dolce tapioca (this time the crepe-like tapioca with dulce de leche inside). For our last day, we took the ferry to Ilha Itaparica, where we walked along the beach and ate a lovely lunch of feijoada, with Derek’s coworkers. The views sitting outside the restaurant were beautiful, but in all honesty, this day was a little more expensive than we would have liked due to the cab ride to and from the beach, and didn’t really seem worth our time there.

Overall we really enjoyed Salvador, as it had a very different feel than São Paulo or Rio. It was fun getting to try street food and experience a local holiday. However, we would have loved to visit the museum and market that were closed!

Adventures in Brasil: Rio

We visited Rio de Janeiro over the Corpus Christi holiday. Therefore, we arrived Wednesday night and left Sunday night. On Thursday we did an all day tour – Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain), Christ the Redeemer, the Selarón Steps, the Metropolitan Cathedral, and lunch at an all you can eat churrascaria (Brazilian steakhouse). As it was Corpus Christi, the Metropolitan Cathedral was filled from the sidewalk to the altar with people creating religious sand art. Christ the Redeemer is quintessential Rio, but the view from the top is so close to the statue, that people lay on the ground in order to get a good picture!

 

On Friday, we did a 3 hour free walking tour of the Centro district. We were the only ones who wanted an English tour, so it was a private tour! This was an awesome experience, and we learned a ton about the history of Brazil and Rio. We walked by the Teatro Municipal, old aqueducts, Selarón Steps, original cathedral, and other historic statues and buildings. If you want our recommendation – skip the city tour and just hit those main attractions on your own, but definitely do the free walking tour! After the tour, we went to the Teatro Municipal for their tour. They do offer one in English, but we did not want to wait. While we didn’t understand the history of the building (and wouldn’t have been able to hear if we had understood the Portuguese as the babies were very tired and we often had to walk away from the tour group to keep their crying from interrupting), we were awestruck by its stained glass, marble, wood floors, etc. Next, we walked to the commercial district. There were so many street vendors! This area was fun to walk around and had a great vibe. Friday evening we took the babies for their first swim. Norah seemed at ease in the water, wanting to lay on her tummy and kick her legs. Naomi enjoyed the water but wanted her legs pointing toward the bottom of the pool.

 

After our long days on Thursday and Friday, on Saturday we decided to allow the babies to take their first nap at the hotel before we walked along Ipanema and Copacabana beaches. It was fun people watching, as different parts of the beach draw different crowds. We held the babies in the ocean, but they were not thrilled with the cold water, waves, and sand. We went back to the hotel and took them in the pool again. Derek then met up for a jog with some runners who were in town for the Rio Marathon. That evening we walked to Galeto Sal’s, which was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. The restaurant seemed local and not touristy, the galeto (young chicken and a Rio staple) was delicious!

 

On our last day, we again let the babies take their first nap at the hotel, while Derek went out to cheer for his marathon running friends. We then visited the Museu da Chácara do Céu and Parque das Ruinas in the Santa Teresa neighborhood. The museu was in a cool old house with indoor/outdoor living and awesome views of the city. While in Santa Teresa, we tried some German feijoada (as the southern part of Brazil is very German). It was light and tasty – carrots, potatoes, white beans, German sausage – served over rice. Finally, we visited the Palacio de Cachete to see where presidents lived when Rio was the capital. Overall, we loved Rio. It had so much culture, so many things to do, and the babies enjoyed eating lots of rice and beans!

10 Months Old and Adventures in Brasil!

In the past month, we have visited Avenida Paulista, Liberdade, and Casa de Francisca in São Paulo and have taken weekend trips to Rio de Janeiro and Salvador.

After both weekend trips, I found myself thinking that it was nice to “go home.” We have definitely come to think of our hotel in Sao Paulo as “home,” and we have gotten used to our routines here. With my Spanish, I am able to understand some Portuguese, but I sometimes get frustrated that I cannot speak and understand more Portuguese. Derek is able to communicate fairly well, but he definitely understands different words and phrases than I do. There are some cultural norms that we have become accustomed to and some which I don’t know that we would ever really accept. For example, Derek is regularly frustrated by how slow everyone walks.

Parents with small babies seem to be treated with more respect in Brazil than in the U.S. At the airport there is a separate check in and baggage check line for pregnant women, parents traveling with infants under 2, the elderly, and people with disabilities. There is also a separate line for this group of people at security. In the U.S., I feel like this group of people is allowed to pre-board, but that is the only accommodation parents with small children get. As well, if I walk into a restroom with a baby strapped to me, all of the women allow me to cut the line.

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Headed to the pharmacy to get Naomi (on front) some medicine
However, the obsession with babies is also frustrating at times. People are constantly stopping, pointing, staring, and wanting to talk to us. Any time we leave our apartment, we hear “São gêmeos? Que linda!” They then want to ask lots of questions about the girls’ names and ages, where we are from, etc. Sometimes we just pretend we don’t understand any Portuguese, so we can get where we are going! In Rio, we noticed that people were also especially touchy. When eating breakfast at our hotel, people would constantly touch the girls’ hands and heads and talk to them. This made it a little difficult to get Norah and Naomi to eat. When we were out and about, we were always trying to be aware of potential pickpockets, so it was disconcerting that people were constantly coming up to talk to us and touch the girls. Most people seemed to have good intentions, and many wanted to “help.” For instance, when we were at Pão de Açucar (Sugarloaf Mountain), we fed the girls and changed their diapers. A woman came up to us and without asking began adjusting one of the girl’s hats, holding her head, etc. We repeatedly told her that we did not need help (in Portuguese), but she continued to “help.” We love that people are friendly, but sometimes we just want some space!

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On weekends where we have stayed in São Paulo, we have tried to make the most of our time here, by visiting various places of interest. Avenida Paulista is popular place to visit for many of the same reasons that people visit Michigan Ave. in Chicago. We visited the Museo de Arte (MASP), then walked along the avenue. We browsed street crafts, window shopped at knock off Polo stores, and saw mansions from the early 1900s mixed in with many financial and cultural buildings. It was the first time that I really felt like I was in a big city!

We have also been to Liberdade twice, which is the Japantown of São Paulo. There are Asian grocery stores (where we picked up some teriyaki sauce), stalls selling various Asian and Brazilian inspired crafts, and a diverse range of street food. We bought a carnival mask and ate some delicious kabobs, spring roll, dumpling, and washed it down with caldo de cana com limão (sugar cane juice with lemon). The food market is always super crowded but very affordable, so we think it is worth it to brave the crowds to get some yummy and cheap eats (USD$2-5 per item).

Finally, Norah and Naomi slept through their third Brazilian babysitting experience, while Derek and I went to Casa de Francisca. Casa de Francisca is a theater/bar in an old building in the Centro district which offers live music and food. I was thinking it would be like a dinner theatre, but it was set up more like a restaurant with tables, a dance floor, and a small stage. Interestingly enough, they also stop taking food orders when the show starts. The  music wasn’t really our style (think lots of triangle with some drums, accordion, singing, and guitar thrown in), but it was definitely a fun and unique experience.

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Naomi weighs 17.19 pounds (13th%), and Norah weighs 15.87 pounds (3%). Naomi was sick the week before their 10 month birthday, so she had not been eating well. However, when she is feeling well, she likes picking up and eating food on her own and tends to be very independent at eating. Norah really improved her pincher grasp this month and can now pick up food with ease, as well. Their favorite meal is pasta with pieces of cheese. In terms of motor skills, Norah clapped for a few days but then started flapping her arms like a bird instead. She also went through a period where she enjoyed wrinkling her nose and sniffing! She can now go from sitting to standing to sitting with ease, and everything has become a jungle gym. Naomi likes clapping, especially when we clap back at her. They both shake their heads back and forth, but Norah has been doing it longer and more consistently.  Both have 3 top teeth and 2 bottom teeth now, but Norah only has one of the two top central teeth and Naomi only has one of the two top lateral teeth! Norah likes turning pages of magazines, so we are excited to go back to the U.S. and read children’s books with her. Naomi has shown some stranger danger and is unsure when rotating maids (not our usual maid) pick her up.

 

 

Cooking Pho

A much delayed cooking story due to life getting in the way. This is a recipe we made back in March.

Since moving to the West Coast, one of my favorite foods has become pho. It combines some of the things I loves about other styles of food: it has a good broth, usually has copious amounts of tender meat, and often is quite spicy.

When we went to Vietnam for our honeymoon, one of the first things we did was take a food tour of Hanoi (the northern capital of the country). The tour gave us some insight into the making of a traditional pho, as well as a chance to taste the numerous different varieties offered by different street vendors.  I enjoyed it so much I almost exclusively ate pho from street stalls during our trip.

There are some decent pho places near where we live (outside of Seattle), and occasionally Michelle grudgingly agrees to relive the honeymoon glory days.  I really enjoy cooking, even though I am pretty sub-par at it.  I like finding new recipes and at least giving them a shot.  Well one of my friends sent me a link discussing how to prepare a good pho, and I was intrigued.  It looked fun! And intense.

The intimidating thing about pho is preparing a decent broth. Each street vendor in Vietnam has a secret family recipe/technique (well maybe not, but that’s how they sell it) passed down from generation to generation. It involves simmering a unique combination of spices, vegetables, and meats for hours. It also involves painstakingly skimming the broth from time to time to keep it free of any impurities.

We took the recipe from the Serious Eats, and hit up our local Asian market.  Even if the pho wasn’t the best we ever had, the excuse to go to the Asian market was definitely worth it. It’s a whole other world culturally, and it’s just right down the street.  So this recipe was a fun adventure in both shopping and cooking.  Without further ado, a Drayer take on pho:

Ingredients:

  • Two yellow onions
  • One clove of garlic
  • One large chunk of ginger
  • Whole star anise (I used 5)
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce – I would add more. (This is especially important as all of Vietnam smells like fish sauce. Which in my opinion is one of the most disgusting smells in the world. But also indicative of authentic Vietnamese food. I knew I was on the right track when the whole house smelled bad.)
  • One teaspoon fennel seeds
  • One teaspoon coriander seeds
  • Two tablespoons of white rock sugar – I would add more. (We had to go to the Asian market for this one.)
  • One serrano pepper
  • One jalapeño
  • I would add one habanero (I think a perfect pho is spicy enough to clear your sinuses, but I also love Michelle – it’s a hard life full of tough decisions. Michelle won out on this one.)
  • One stick cinnamon
  • Three cloves
  • Salt to taste (I hate recipes that call for salt to taste.  At least give me a reference point!  I would recommend starting with one tablespoon and go from there.)
  • One pound beef brisket – this is a debatable addition. It is expensive and doesn’t really add a ton in my opinion. Get more flavorful and cheaper meat cuts instead.
  • One pound beef chuck
  • Three pounds beef shin (Need to get that marrow!  Yum yum. This was easier to find at the Asian market.)
  • Two pounds oxtail (This is the best part in my opinion. Frozen oxtail was available at our regular grocery store, but the Asian market had some great looking fresh oxtail that I think would have been better)
  • Any other meat you think would be fun and/or would contribute to a rich flavor to your broth. The fun thing about pho is you can make it up as you go and it will probably still turn out alright. The “cheap” cuts actually are pretty great for the broth as they often have a lot of flavor and you cook them for so long it doesn’t matter if they’re usually a tough cut.
  • Pho noodles (We had to go the Asian market for this. Also note that pho noodles need to be soaked for quite a while before a quick cook. Don’t leave this until you’re ready to eat or you will be disappointed…like us.)
  • Garnishes as desired
    • Hoisin sauce
    • Sriracha
    • Cilantro (This is required in my book. If you don’t like cilantro I’m not sure I can trust you.)
    • Mint
    • Bean sprouts (The sprouts we got were bitter and not good at all, border line ruining our pho. I strongly recommend tasting the sprouts before adding them willy nilly to your broth! Also we couldn’t find this at our local grocery.)

Actual preparation:

  1. Char the onions, ginger and garlic. I did this on a gas grill and it worked great. Basically just throw this stuff on the grill on high, turning occasionally for about 25 min. Everything should be blackened for best results. For the real deal you should char your add ins over an open flame but who has time for that.
  2. Clean the meat.  You can do this by putting the meat into a big pot of water and bring it to a boil for a few minutes (you don’t want to cook the meat just break up cartilage). After the meat cools you can rinse and scrub off any debris.
  3. Start your broth! You do this by throwing in your meat and other add ins like the onion, salt, fish sauce, cloves, cinnamon, etc. into a big pot of clean water. Simmer for about an hour and a half. Exact time isn’t super important. After an hour and half you can pull out any nicer cuts of meat such as brisket and chuck. You can cool those and save for later.
  4. Continue making that broth. I would simmer for another 4-5 hours. During this time use a strainer or something similar to take off the top layer of gunk and cartilage that will form. After 4-5 hours you can take the broth off the heat, remove all the aromatics, and strain till broth is clean.
  5. Add any last minute seasoning: fish sauce, salt, pepper, etc.
  6. Prepare pho noodles. PLEASE NOTE: these can take upward of an hour to re-hydrate!img_5925.jpg
  7. Serve your pho over noodles. Include any fun add ins you want like cilantro, jalapenos, the nice cuts of meat you set aside, sriracha, bean sprouts (though I don’t recommend these), etc.
  8. Be both disappointed that it doesn’t live up to restaurant standards and also impressed that you pulled it off, and it tastes pretty good.

Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

Navigating The Brazilian Medical System

As some of you may know, I have started getting serious about running again. After a really poor marathon in 2015, I decided it was time to get back out there and have a good marathon experience.  I have been training hard through the first half of 2017 and had some good success in shorter races at the beginning of the year.

When I started looking at marathons, I thought it might be fun to do one while we were in Sao Paulo. After much struggling with the requirements for foreigners I registered for the Sao Paulo City Marathon on July 30 (the weekend after my work assignment in Brazil ends).  I was doing a great job of training while in Brazil, relying on a combination of our hotel’s gym and the wonderful park a mile from our place.  I was able to go on some really nice runs in Rio de Janeiro as well.

Copa
Run along Copacabana and Ipanema

Unfortunately, while running two weeks ago I experienced some very bad pain in my hamstring. Bad enough I had to bail on my run and couldn’t get back to it for several days.  After giving the hamstring a break with no improvement, I decided it was time to explore the Brazilian medical system. Fortunately, EY provided international insurance (ISOS) for the duration of the trip. ISOS has a team of specialists on-call 24/7 with a range of language specialists to help book appointments and navigate local health care issues.  While the team at ISOS has been great, it is challenging at times to get a hold of them, as it can only be through calls to U.S. numbers (extremely difficult in Brazil) or email (slow response time when I am standing at a hospital trying to make a future appointment).

So I called ISOS to book an appointment. Despite assuring the team at ISOS that I needed an orthopedist, I was told that I had to go to a generalist first. I was impressed they were able to set up an appointment the same day. I headed to meet my new doctor at the lovely Centro Medico Sergipe building. Centro

There are very few people in Brazil that speak English, even in comparison to places I would not expect large English speaking populations like Peru, Vietnam, or Cambodia. I try to speak Portuguese with everyone I meet, but sometimes that proves to be a losing proposition as well. I have found that if I admit I don’t speak great Portuguese early in a conversation, most people won’t even try to understand what I am saying. However, if I never admit that I don’t speak Portuguese, people will generally work harder to understand me.  It’s weird. Regardless, through my broken Portuguese I was able to get in to see the doctor.

The one criteria ISOS used in booking my appointment seemed to be finding an English speaking doctor – so once I got into his office things went pretty well. But, for medical purposes the doctor’s English as a second language combined with my bad Portuguese still left something to be desired.  After an hour of conversation and mild poking and prodding, it was decided that I did have a hamstring injury (who would have thought). This meant a further referral to the orthopedic specialist as I requested in the first place. To add to the fun, my insurance would not cover the orthopedic specialist the general practitioner (chosen by my insurance) referred me to.

Which is how I found myself at Albert Einstein Hospital on a Monday night.

floricultura-cemiterio-velorio-hospital-albert-einstein-morumbi-sao-paulo

One thing about Brazil: everything requires an extra degree of security. Whether that be to get off on a specific floor in your hotel, to visit the ID processing building, or in this case to visit the hospital. I had to have a photo taken, share my Brazilian and U.S. documentation, and have a finger print taken just to get in the door. I find this level of security adds a sense of stress and…heaviness to every day activities. Sort of highlights that you’re not in the U.S. anymore and things are maybe not quite as safe as you’re used to.

The nice things about Albert Einstein Hospital: it’s a gorgeous new facility and they maintain English speaking hospitality staff to escort dumb Americans.  So I was given a personal interpreter for much of the evening.

Eventually I was able to see the orthopedic specialist (after my helpful English speaking guide ditched me). The doctor spoke some English, but things were a little muddy in our communication. The ultimate result of our conversation was a “prescription” for an ultrasound and 10 physical therapy sessions.  I thought it was odd to get assigned physical therapy before seeing the results of the ultrasound, but I guess I am not the doctor here. The ISOS folks don’t have a local number to call, so I could not immediately schedule the ultrasound (I wasn’t going to pay BRL$700 on the hope I could get reimbursed). However, ISOS took care of it quickly the next morning when I was able to call and scheduled my follow up doctors appointment and physical therapy too!

So now I am now at my third Brazilian medical facility awaiting my ultrasound. I am honestly quite impressed with how fast and helpful the ISOS team has been (minus not having local numbers to call). The other remarkable thing is that I have not had to wait for medical personnel to see me. Appointments have started on time, every time.  Which is a nice change of pace!

Hopefully, the ultrasound shows no major issues and I am able to get back to running soon!

 

 

 

9 Months Old & Adventures in Brasil!

 

It is completely surreal that we are currently living in Brasil! The babies and I have been here exactly 2 weeks (of our 11 week stay), and Derek almost a month and a half into his 3 month rotation. So far, it has definitely been an adventure (as it should be!). Flying here, while stressful, went about as smoothly as it could have. My mom, Naomi, Norah, and I flew SEA-PDX-ATL-GRU. We had tight connections, but Delta came through for us. On the Portland to Atlanta flight, there were plenty of seats, so my mom and I were able to share a row! (There are only 4 oxygen masks per row, so usually only 1 infant in arms is allowed per row. However, if only 2 of the 3 seats are occupied, then you can have 2 infant in arms.) We met my dad in Atlanta and were not optimistic that we would get on a flight to São Paulo. However, we got lucky and 2 seats were available. My mom and I raced onto the plane at the last minute. We then sat at the gate for an hour while they finished loading luggage and fixed a toilet. My dad got on a flight a few hours later bound for Rio and then met us in São Paulo. The babies did pretty well on the flights. Naomi and my mom had aisle seats on the 9.5 hour flight to São Paulo and made friends with everyone walking by (including a little Brasilian girl who wanted to show off her stuffed animal). Norah and I were stuck in a middle seat, but the Brasilians around us were very nice and put up with Norah trying to steal their watches and bracelets. Unfortunately when we arrived in São Paulo, we found out our luggage had not arrived with us, but we were able to have it delivered the next day for a small fee. Derek and I are so thankful that my parents were able to make this journey with us; we truly could not have done it without them. My mom and Naomi are now best travel buddies!

 

Our first day in Brasil was just spent relaxing, and we quickly realized the importance of downloading an app (Viber or WhatsApp) so that we could all communicate! Our second day in Brasil, we decided to visit Parque Ibirapuera. Before heading over there, we stopped for lunch at a local  restaurant where we shared some delicious feijoada (bean stew with beef and pork). Derek said it was the best food he has eaten in Brasil! We took an Uber to Parque Ibirapuera. Uber has been amazing in Brasil, as they are readily available and fairly cheap! Parque Ibirapuera is like the Central Park of São Paulo. It is pleasant to walk around, as it is fairly shaded. There is a large lake in the middle, many play structures, soccer fields, bike paths, and a few museums.

 

Our third day in Brasil we visited the Catedral de Sé and the Centro district. The babies wanted to sing along during mass (especially when only the priest was talking). We briefly walked around the market in the Centro district and then ate a yummy Asian noodle dish and Chilean empanadas before heading home for the babies to nap. We went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner, where the babies were serenaded by a mariachi band. There was some confusion about the menu here, and we learned that rodízio means all you can eat. This was our last night with my mom and dad, who traveled to Rio for a few days before heading back to the U.S.

 

On the fourth day, the babies and I ventured out alone in order to visit Derek at work.  Up until this point, the babies had been struggling with sleeping. They didn’t get nearly as much sleep on the journey here as they usually do in a 24 hour period, and São Paulo is 4 hours ahead of Seattle. Plus, they are used to sleeping in a separate room! However, we finally seemed to turn a corner the 4th night and 5th day. It was definitely a rough couple days living in a 450 sq ft studio apartment with overtired babies who were crying for hours at bedtime and fussy during the day. We really needed more space, so we were counting down until we got to move into a bigger apartment on June 1. However, as seems to be the case in Brasil, it was a process. At first, the hotel seemed to have no idea that we were supposed to move. After many phone calls, emails, and conversations from me and an employee at EY, we were told we could move. I packed everything up the night before our move. On the morning of June 1, I was told we couldn’t move until after 5p, so I had to unpack some of the essentials for the babies. I went down to the front desk at 4:30 and was told that we actually couldn’t move until the next day because the room wasn’t ready. At this point we were quite frustrated, and EY began looking into other hotels for us. On the morning of June 2, I was told we could move in the afternoon. I explained that we needed to move between the baby’s naps, and I was assured that we could move at 12p. It seemed like the hotel just kept giving us what we wanted to hear instead of the truth, though… At noon, I received a call from the front desk asking if we were ready to move! Finally!!! Then a few minutes later I received a call back saying the room was still not ready! Derek and I went down to the front desk to see what the problem was. They said the room was not clean, which we didn’t understand as they had now had 36 hours to clean it! We said we didn’t care, we just needed to move. We finally got to move into our 667 sq ft room and everyone has been happier and slept much better!

 

On our second Saturday in Brasil, we went to the Zoologico São Paulo with some of Derek’s Brasilian and American co-workers. Norah and Naomi enjoyed the parrots, monkeys, and cats. That evening we went out to dinner (where we saw a nanny!) and then walked around the shopping mall until we found dulce de leite ice cream (the babies were sad that they didn’t get to eat any). On our second Sunday in São Paulo, Derek and I went to the Palmeiras futebol game with his co-workers, and the babies had their first non-relative babysitter. The soccer game was a very fun experience. The streets around the stadium were closed, so there was lots of tailgating with grilled street food, huge flags, cheering, etc. We were told that the babies did a great job for the babysitter. It is amazing what technology can do. I am part of a Seattle nanny Facebook group, and I asked there if anyone knew of babysitters in Brasil. Two women were able to put me in touch with relatives and friends here!

 

Norah and Naomi have graduated to size 3 diapers and weigh 7.2 kg (15.8 lb), which keeps them in the 8th percentile. They enjoy people watching on our balcony and plane watching at the pool. They also like the many floor length mirrors in our apartment and playing peekaboo. Norah and Naomi love mango and persimmon, but they are not big fans of broccoli. They have started to pull themselves to stand, and Norah likes when we help her stand and walk. She also loves splashing in the pool and practicing her yoga (especially downward dog). Naomi really likes eating necklaces (thanks Grandma…) and alternates army crawling and real crawling. They both are very curious and like to follow us around. Naomi has been fussy because she is teething (working on the top 4 teeth). Norah didn’t act like she was teething, but her upper right lateral tooth popped through on the 6th! They have been spoiled here. They get a lot more time with daddy, now that his commute is a 15 minute walk, and they are constantly being called “linda” (beautiful) by strangers, hotel staff, and friends.