Monday, June 29, 2009

The Joys of Swimming

I got exactly what I asked for yesterday - Sawyer decided it was time to swim without his water wings. The devil is somewhere hot laughing his ass off right now because Sawyer has decided that his wings suck. This means that when we are in the pool, I have to spend the entire time holding the boys head up. I have no idea what part of this is fun for him, but the little sh*t seems to enjoy it.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Blog Part Deux

As I sit here listening to my father ask my mother if Jesse Jackson is related to Michael Jackson because AOL has video of him directing traffic at the Jackson Mansion, I have decided to kick off the blog once more. In the past I have made it too daunting by waiting several weeks to write something. It failed miserably - as you can tell by the multiple months without a post. Don't expect the long posts anymore. There will also be many fewer pictures. I am going to try and put a lines together every day. Of course, as there will be more posts, I will stop the auto-emails. If you're interested, swing by the blog and check it out. Its nothing special, but I like the idea of it. Now its time to see if I like doing it as well.
Big news of this particular day is that Ella Lane Smith was born to Michael and Elizabeth Smith (Vic's sister). The first pics out of the hospital room show a very beautiful girl that I believe bares a resemblance to her father (turns out the man would have made a cute girl).
My mom and I took Ansley and Sawyer to Up! today. Classic film featuring our dog (anyone that has seen Walker near a squirrel will know the reference). After the movie, Ansley informed me that we should take her mom when she got back...for a treat, if she (Vic) was good. Made me laugh hard enough that I had to agree.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

School, Buzios, and Carnaval

Once again it has been quite a while since my last post. I have been fairly busy at work trying to get ready for an extended turnaround. For my mother's benefit I will briefly explain a turnaround - we stop everything involved with the production of oil and gas, open it all up, climb inside and ensure that it can keep running until we have to do this again. From a project perspective, this is my opportunity to implement several millions of dollars worth of equipment and piping modifications. I am somewhat torn by these off shore events. From a professional level, its a lot of fun to see inside the process, think on our feet to address unexpected problems within the turnaround duration, and see over a year's worth of planning come to fruition. From a personal level, I'll be out here and away from Vic and the kids for a month or more. I do get to hear things like "We need to stay away from the poop this afternoon cause its gonna get hairy". Of course the "poop" is the poop deck and this is an entirely legitimate statement, but it still makes the kid in me chuckle. All right, enough about work. Since my last note, Sawyer has started preschool. He has spent the last year watching his sister go to school and telling us that he wants to go as well - not quite that articulate, but you get the drift. His first few days, he was typically out of the car and running through the house that serves as the American School P-2 Barra at mach 2 to get to the back. It was just more than his little heart could stand. It has been interesting to hear the behavior reports for Sawyer and comparing them to those we got for Ansley. I typically do not pick him up, so my account of the morning (half day only) is based upon Vic's description, but, upon hearing the account, I envision the two pre-school teachers having slightly more disheveled hair than when I dropped him off, breathing a little heavy through their mouth, and laughing manically with relief very quietly under their breath. Vic will tell you that this just isn't so; however, his first week and a half the teachers asked Vic to get him early every day, and they have since decided that maybe the problem is that he was going three days in a row (WThF) and have moved him to MWF to see if this helps. Oh well, they'll get over it...they probably need the exercise anyway. On to other topics - one of the the common occurrences with expat life is that it is not uncommon for the spouse to be stuck at home with the kids while the husband is travelling on business of one kind or another. The best case scenario here is that the timing of the business trip aligns with a friend's business trip as this means the spouses can join forces and deal with the kids together. Just before Carnaval the stars aligned and I found myself offshore for a week while Adam Webb found himself away in the jungle looking for iron. This meant that his wife, Annette, and Vic could get together. The nice thing about this particular event was that the two of them decided to plan a three day trip and Adam and I were stuck tagging along when we got back - tough life. They chose a Brazilian tradition - Buzios. Bridgette Bardot found this place back in the day and put it on the map. It's about two hours out of Rio along a beautiful stretch of beach and it deserves its reputation. We went over there the Wednesday following Carnaval and were driving into town as every one else in Brazil and Argentina drove out. We didn't have the place to our self, but we had a pretty easy time of it as far as crowds are concerned. Vic had found a Poussada about a block off one of the nicer beaches and promptly booked it. My only responsibility was to tell work that I wasn't going to bother coming Thursday and Friday - done. At this point, you may be asking "What the hell is a Poussada?" My description is that it is the Brazilian version of a bed and breakfast. The owner's of this particular poussada had bought all the houses over a two block area and converted them into separate apartments. Our block had two houses - one for couples and one for families. The Webbs took a two bedroom apartment upstairs and we took a two bedroom apartment downstairs. There was then a common area downstairs that consisted of the pool, a TV room (complete with three channels), a kitchen and a dining room. It was ideal for us. Sawyer, of course, decided he preferred the couples house to our own. This choice only posed a problem when he proceeded to go streaking through their common room with his father chasing after him yelling at the top of his voice. The Poussada also had a fantastic aviary off the outdoor dining room. Apparently, children are sadistic, they saw the birds and decided to start playing a game called "bang on the cages and yell as loud as you can and see if any birds faint or die of fright". The owners were very impressed.
Buzios is known for two things - food and beaches. We had some great meals and certainly enjoyed the food, but we had the most fun at the beaches. Adam and I got an early start on Thursday morning and rented a couple of surf boards. We spent the better part of an hour tiring ourselves out trying to surf. As it was only my second time, I thought I did pretty well. At the end of the morning, I was tired, bruised, and had a broken board, but I was happy with the effort. I managed to stand up a couple of times and only ingested a couple of gallons of the Atlantic through my nose.
The kids had been watching us try this with a certain amount of excitement as they anticipated that when we came in, it was their turn. Not wanting to disappoint, we used the white water near the beach and gave Ansley and Charlie some shots...the little punks did considerably better than their old men. Both of them managed to stand up multiple times and ride waves to the beach. Charlie was down right amazing. The kid looked like he had been surfing every day for the past three years. Ansley enjoyed it, but was more interested in her new boogie board. I'm hoping that before we leave, she and I will be heading out weekend mornings to surf together. Sawyer tried the surf board, but he was more interested in throwing sand and digging holes. I tried them both, and, I must admit, they were surprisingly calming. We only quit when Vic and Ansley told us it was time to clean up and get ready for lunch. What a buzz kill.
Following our return to Rio, we had a night and day to recover from our vacation before we went to the Parade of Champions at the Sambadromo in Rio (sans kids). While we were here last year for Carnaval, we were still trying to get our feet under us and elected to partake in some of the smaller family events in Barra. This year we decided to see the main event. My mistake in this whole endeavor is believing that the Carnaval Parades must be similar to a Mardi Gras Parade. They are similar, but its like comparing a lamp to the sun. Carnaval is huge. Mardi Gras has its visitors, but they are more interested in watching girls lift their shirts for beads and drinking beer until the person they are with looks good or they pass out or both. Carnaval is this entire country's way of life. The only arguments to the contrary that I will entertain are those given by residents of New Orleans or the surrounding area. To these people Mardi Gras is something more and it is a legitimate comparison. All you others can stuff it because you are wrong.
Carnaval Parades are held in the Sambadromo. This is a one kilometer road with stadium seats on either side. Ground rules: - Friday through Tuesday leading up to Ash Wednesday there is a parade. - Six samba groups march in each one and each group is judged. They are judged on things like costumes, music, lyrics, floats, pace, the ability to keep their clothes on, etc - The group has one hour and fifteen minutes to go from one side to the other. - They each write their own song and it is played by a band at the back of the parade over the stadium loudspeaker for the duration that they are on the road. - The first parade starts at 9:00pm and the sun is typically in the sky when the last parade ends. - There are fireworks between each parade. - The people of Rio have their favorite parades and cheer for them as you would a sports team. - The night we were there (Saturday after Ash Wednesday) was the six highest scoring parades of the previous week. - As in Mardi Gras, anyone can pay some money and join in the parade. You even get a costume.
The floats are massive, intricate and typically move. The costumes are loud, tight and difficult to keep in place (hence the one judging category). The music is cool when you play it yourself, but at the sambadromo, it is loud. Insanely loud. We watched three and a half parades and my hearing didn't return to normal until Monday. It didn't help that we were sitting in a Frezia with a speaker pointing right at us. It was so loud that the speakers actually generated a nice breeze for us - a plus. The only real disappointment of the night was the beer they served at the Sambadromo - it was cheap, weak and tasted like crap. I felt like I was back in New Orleans drinking Dixie Beer. At this point, I can't remember if my hearing returned to normal or the taste of the beer left my mouth first. Whichever it was, it wasn't all that bad. It really was an amazing experience and it's hard not to enjoy yourself when you have however many thousands of people around you cheering and going nuts. Hope you are all well. AtĂȘ proximo vez.

video

Here's a video of Sawyer nearing the end of our trip in Buzios. He just couldn't stay awake another minute.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Scariest Moment of My Life

These last couple of weeks have been a little exciting. Last weekend we took a trip to Petropolis for a one day look around on Saturday and then the kids and I went to the beach in Ipanema on Sunday while Vic went to the Hippie Fair. Petropolis is about an hour and a half from here in the mountains. While it was 100 degrees here with >90% humidity in Rio, there it was a pleasant 75 with a light breeze.
Some Good Looking People
The highlight of the day involved a trip to the Imperial Museum. This was the summer palace for the royal family in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They now have it set up as a pleasant little park in front and the house is a museum. You aren't allowed to wear your shoes in the house or bring in cameras or Sawyers. This last meant that Sawyer and I had to sit it out in the train house next door while Vic and Ansley toured the house. It also means that the only pictures we have of this time are of Sawyer and I. Sawyer is really into trains right now, and the barriers set up in the train room weren't very effective against his considerable powers. I spent most of the time in the building trying to get Sawyer off the engine while the guard laughed at me and refused to let me go inside the barrier to get him. It was a blast.
Grace, Charlotte, Ben, Charlie, Ansley and Sawyer After a challenging walk through the Palace
He just really wanted to jump Sawyer and I in front of the Palace
For the trip back, we decided to take the longer route through Teresopolis. I had thought this way was only about 30-45 minutes longer, but after 3 hours we were still an hour away from home. This was bad for us, James and Louise had a car full of three kids (including there one month old) and Louise's mom. Needless to say, no matter how bad our drive was, there's was worse. There was a bend coming out of Teresopolis where you had a clear view of all of Rio from the mountain top. It was absolutely amazing.
Vic and I in front of the mountain
All of Rio is in this shot
The next day at the beach was a blast for the kids and myself. Ansley and Sawyer have no fear around the waves, and they actually laugh when they get knocked down and rolled through the surf. Fearlessness is great, and we really don't want them to lose this adventurous streak; however, keeping them alive through this phase is something of a challenge. All I could do at the beach was watch Ansley challenge the waves head on, while I tried to keep Sawyer from getting sucked out to sea. To make it worse, I had a series of grandma's in thongs come by to explain to me that the children needed more sun screen. One of them actually used her sun burned beer gut to explain to me that Sawyer's shoulder's and face were going to get just as bad. I was about to go get sunscreen when she turner around and bent over. I don't care if its Giselle Bunchen (sp?), no one should bend over at the waist in dental floss. A proctologist probably would struggle to get a view that I was given at the beach. Needless to say I forgot the sunscreen and managed to get both kids burned while Vic was at the Hippie Fair. I felt like a heel.
This weekend was a little different experience. Yesterday we took the kids to a beach near here called Prainha. This is a gorgeous beach tucked in between two mountains with a little stream cutting across it. Absolutely fantastic. We had managed to get both kids and all the associated paraphenelia down to the beach when we heard the first gunshot from the parking lot. We were there with a couple of other expat families and their kids. Most of the group didn't seem to register the sound. Adam and I looked at each other and started watching the parking lot closely. I think we were both just hoping everything would settle down; unfortunately, with the second shot, the fight started to spill down on the beach about 100 feet from us. It was an insane scramble to grab kids and car keys, but on a beach tucked in between two mountains there just isn't any where to go. We ran to the water and then ran along it for a ways in the opposite direction of the people with guns. After a little while, we stopped to see what was going on. At this point, I watched a man run onto the beach with a gun in the air. I heard three more shots (I assume aimed at this man) and then we were once again on the run. We ran a ways further and then just sat down in the surf. We had crying kids, no way off the beach, no idea what was going on, and the surf was breaking right over us. Not a good day at the beach.
Once it was over, we loaded everyone into the car, called the folks that were on the way to meet us and brought the whole party to our house so the kids could have a pool party and hopefully not realize just what happened. I am very grateful right now that we were not five minutes later and in the parking lot when it happened. I am grateful that no one asked questions or second guessed actions. I am grateful Sawyer didn't try to play or run away. I am grateful more of the gun fight didn't spill onto the beach. I am grateful that this time the guns stopped firing when the police arrived. I am grateful Maggie had cookies to take the kids minds off what was going on. I am grateful that we could joke about the kids playing Prainha with squirt guns later that morning at the pool and genuinely laugh about it. Needless to say, it was a very scary reminder why Rio is considered a hazard assignment for Shell.
I hope everyone is doing well.