Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Blessings to you in the New Year!

I'm writing my New Year's post and greetings a few days early. Tomorrow we are headed to Rio de Janeiro! Now, this isn't your usual get-away. Oh no! AND this isn't just a family vacation. Nope! THIS trip is the 'extended family vacation' with Renato's family. Yes, that's right, there are 10 of us going on this trip.

You see, Renato's uncle lives in Rio, and the family has never gone to see him, so they thought now is a great time to go. (I've heard that Rio is the "place" to be for New Years in Brazil....I guess they have a magnificent fireworks display at "Copacabana" one of the famous beaches....yes that's the Barry Manilow song, "at the Copa, Copacabana". That song has been stuck in my head for the past 2 weeks.) So the whole family is going, plus a girlfriend....that makes 10 people. And the really funny part of the whole thing, is that we're going with only 2 cars. And I'm not talking mini-vans, or suburbans here people....I'm talking about TINY (like Ford Escort) sized cars. We're actually driving our car because we have one of those toll-road passes that lets you drive fast through the tolls, and there will be A LOT of tolls to drive through. Oh, and did I mention that the drive time could last anywhere from 6 hours to 10 hours....they're not really sure.

HA! Can you believe that!! I'm sorry, but whenever I think about this trip, I start giggling and laughing. I just can't imagine all of us in these 2 TINY cars for 10 hours. I'm American, so I'm used to what I would now call "luxury" travel. By luxury, I mean a big vehicle with lots of leg room and lots of "bells and whistles"....like a radio. (Cars here don't come with radios...you have to install them yourself, and our care doesn't have one.) I just wanted to give you a picture of the reality of travel here in Brazil, compared to the US. But, I am ready for an adventure!!!

I am looking forward to the trip though. It'll be great to see Rio and see all of the famous spots, like the Christ statue on the hill, and the famous beaches like Ipanema, and Copacabana. AND Renato's uncle only lives 5 minutes away from a really nice, and not so busy beach. Yay! It'll be fun taking Camden there too. Hopefully he'll like the sand this time. We took him to the beach last year when he was a year old, and he didn't really like the sand at all.

So the plan is to leave REALLY early tomorrow morning...like 4AM (yikes!) and travel through the day, so that we can be there for the New Years Eve fireworks. Renato, Camden, and I will be staying at Renato's Uncles house though. The beach and a HUGE party (and I mean HUGE), is not where I'd like to take my almost 2 year old.....or have him stay up until midnight. (I don't even know if I'll make it.) But I'm sure we'll enjoy our New Years Eve at Renato's Uncles house, just the same.

I pray you all have a wonderful and blessed 2009! Wow, it's weird to even just write that, and soon it'll be a reality! I'm sure I'll have lots to blog about and lots of pictures of our trip next week. Happy New Year!!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Feliz Natal

Merry Christmas from Brazil....or in Portuguese, Feliz Natal! I pray you all had a wonderful Christmas. I wanted to share a little about Christmas in Brazil.

Christmas here in Brazil is not celebrated as much as in the U.S. Here it's more about some time off from work, getting together with either family or friends, and seeing how much you can eat and drink. Sad, I know. It seems the REAL meaning of Christmas has been lost here. But at least we can know the real meaning in our hearts, and not let the media or culture dictate what Christmas is all about to us.

Anyway, back to a Brazilian Christmas.....Santa here is called, "Papai Noel" or translated to "daddy Christmas". Even gifts here aren't that important. Families here only usually give JUST to their immediate family, and usually only 1 gift per person. (Which I tend to think is more than enough, but that's just me!) Christmas Eve celebrations start late in the evening....like 8:30 or 9PM, so that they can then celebrate Christmas at the stroke of midnight. So they either get together with friends or family, then eat late at night. When midnight strikes you go around to EVERYONE at the party, wishing each person individually, "Feliz Natal", and other blessings, along with the traditional hug and kiss on the cheek. (That's a Brazilian thing...you ALWAYS kiss people on the cheek when saying hello or good-bye.) The Christmas Eve celebration lasts well into the night, then people usually sleep in on Christmas morning and then get together with family or friends again later in the afternoon on Christmas Day.

Like I said before in an earlier post, not many people decorate much at all here either. Hardly anyone has a big Christmas tree in their house, but they may have a small one. But that's about it. I did see a few houses with a few lights up, but not many.

Our Chirstmas Eve was spent pretty quietly until the evening celebration. I made salmon for lunch, which was a bit special....since you don't get a lot of salmon here. We went to a family friends house to celebrate. Renato's family all went too, so we celebrated together. We got there about 8:45PM. (Just a side note, Camden's bedtime is 7PM....so it was a VERY late night for him...we finally put him down at 10:45. His eyes were sooo red! Poor little guy, but he had fun until he went to sleep!) We ate at about 10:30. The traditional meat for Christmas here is ham. There was lots of good food (which is always true in Brazil!), and it was displayed beautifully (which is also a Brazilian thing...the food always LOOKS fantastic!).

They had a "white elephant" type gift exchange, which was super funny. It was called "Amigo Secreto" or secret friend, and there were a lot of outrageous hats and cheap toys for all. :) When midnight struck, we kissed and hugged everyone....even the people you just met a few hours before. We stayed for until about 1:15 and headed home. I knew that even though Camden went to bed super late, he'd still wake up at about 7:30AM....and I was right!

I wanted our Christmas morning to be special and start a few new traditions. I decided that I'd make cinnamon rolls for breakfast and then we'd open gifts (only Camden had gifts), talk about Jesus and the real meaning of Christmas, then just enjoy our morning.

I looked for a good recipe online for the cinnamon rolls and I found a TERRIFIC one! Oh my goodness....these were the BEST cinnamon rolls I've ever eaten. Camden also LOVED that he didn't have to eat his oatmeal/rice/fruit cereal that he eats everyday....he kept saying, "NUM, NUM!" after every bite of the cinnamon roll! I had to include a picture and the link for the recipe. You have to try these cinnamon rolls!!

Anyway, we had a good Christmas and pretty low-key. I know that it was special celebrating it in Brazil with Renato's family and that was nice. The weather wasn't even that hot, which was a huge blessing! I kinda liked the rainy Christmas day weather....better than hot and humid!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Comparison Game

It is the Christmas season...and it's only a week away! Wow! One of the more "popular" blogs out there does a wonderful Christmas Tour of Homes. How you play, is that you take pictures of all of your Christmas decorations in your home, post them on your blog, then link to her blog. I stumbled upon it yesterday and there were over 700+ links to other blogs, all of these women showing their homes and decorations. I thought, what fun!!! I LOVE to get new ideas and of course, to peek into other people's homes. Well, I got a lot more then I was bargaining for.

After the first few blogs that I visited, I started feeling sad/bad about my own circumstances. The pictures on these blogs were amazing! The decorations were incredible and gorgeous, and the homes were absolutely beautiful. I started looking around my humble little rental home. Most of my furniture hand-me-downs, hardly anything on the walls to decorate. For Christmas, I only had up our very tiny and very sad looking tree (that we had bought a few days before). I had started the comparison game in my head. I don't know if you ever do this, but I start comparing what I have to other's and then a feeling of "not measuring up" comes in. I was thinking....there is no way on God's green earth, that I would ever post any pictures of my very sad x-mas tree...and it being our only x-mas decoration at the time, next to these beautiful homes and gorgeous decorations.

I finally just stopped looking at the blogs and shut my computer. That's when God started speaking. He reminded me very quickly that last year, I didn't even have a home. (We were in our nomadic period of staying with friends/family before we moved to Brazil.) He also reminded me that Christmas isn't about decorations or how "pretty" your house looks. It's about Jesus, and the condition of our own hearts. When I looked into my heart, it wasn't very "pretty". I had a lot of lies and ugly things to get rid of before my heart would be truly ready and "beautiful" for the spirit of Christmas.

Since then, I've been looking around my house and appreciating everything I do have. (Even my sad and tiny x-mas tree!) Now I am so thankful that I have it! I have a home, my wonderful husband, my spunky son, baby Dawson on the way, and a very blessed life. I'm doing the most to make my home filled up with as much "Christmas Spirit" as possible. And that doesn't mean any fancy decorations, but the condition of our hearts.

Renato and I have talked about some family traditions we can start now with Camden and carry with us wherever we are in the years to come. Some traditions that aren't about what we buy or put up around the house, but what we fill ourselves with. We want to fill up with joy, peace, and love, then spread that to those around us. We've talked about what we want to do together Christmas morning as a family, and start some fun traditions like a special breakfast, and other fun activities.

With my heart changed, my home and all of my very minimal decorations are so beautiful to me. I can't wait for Christmas morning to share with Renato and Camden the joy, wonder, and blessing of our Savior's birth. AND, now that I have my heart cleaned out and "beautiful" once again, this evening I'm sitting with my husband on the couch, in the light of our little tree, listening to beautiful Christmas music, drinking some hot tea, and thoroughly enjoying that tour of homes on the blogs once again. I'm loving looking at all the beautiful homes and gorgeous decorations...without even a hint of the comparison game sneaking in!

Thank you Lord for changing my heart and opening my eyes to You and all You've blessed me with.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cookie Decorating

Well, I'm in the middle of trying to get my x-mas goodies and cookies done. This year we're going to give some friends and family (grandparents) a "x-mas goodie" tray for x-mas. So I've been busy making all sorts of yummy things. All the things I'm making you don't see here in Brazil, so it'll be fun to see what people think. I actually had to bring a HUGE jar of peanut butter with me, sprinkles, and marshmallows, so that I could make some of my favorite treats. I've never seen marshmallows here, peanut butter comes in a tiny little container and has tons of sugar added, and I've only seen a few sprinkles. So I planned ahead was able to bring a few things back to Brazil with me from the US.

Yesterday we spent the afternoon decorating the sugar cookies. We had so much fun and I must say, they are the cutest cookies I've ever decorated. :) Camden had his first "sugar high" too. He just licked all the frosting and sprinkles off the cookies we gave him to decorate. At least it kept him busy, but now we are sure that we want to keep as much sugar as we can FAR FAR AWAY from him. YIKES!

We had fun family time though, and that's what really matters!

Posing with our cookies. Renato said that noone here will want to eat them. They don't decorate x-mas cookies here, so it will be fun to give these away to our friends and neighbors.

Here are just a few of the cookies. Aren't they cute??? I actually had to put them in the fridge for awhile to get the frosting to harden and set...it's just too hot here.

This is my super creative husband concentrating on decorating his cookie. My goodness did he ever get fancy! He's all about the details, and well....I'm not. I'm just about getting the job done. Although, I did have some creative moments myself. :)

Posing with a cookie.

He can't wait to dig his teeth into this cookie!!

Look at that face! This is after he helped me lick the spoon after we dipped peanut butter goodies in chocolate. Too cute!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Surprises and Blessings

I wanted to take some time to document some of the amazing surprises and blessings God showered us with while on our trip. Before we left, I prayed specifically that somehow, the expenses of our trip would be taken care of and that it would be full of fun surprises. Well, let me just tell you, God delivered! :)

I'm just going to mention some of them here, but I really need to write in my journal all of the awesome ways we were blessed.

1. A friend from high school emailed me a few days before our trip and invited us to a Third Day concert that was going to be in Bismarck while we were in ND, their treat. It was such a fun night out with this couple and we saw a great and uplifting concert too!

2. A friend of mine took me shopping for Camden and baby (didn't yet know it was a boy) at some outlet malls and the store we went to was having a MAJOR sale. Can anyone give me an AMEN for really nice, new, brand name clothes for $0.99!!!

3. We kept hitting major clearance racks at the stores we went to because we were looking for summer clothes, and that's what was on sale. I don't think I ever paid more than $12 for anything....most everything was in the $3-$7 range. Hallelujah!

4. Our 15 hr. drive to CO and back would have been super expensive, but gas decided to hit some all time lows just for our trip. One way of our trip (from ND to CO) only cost us about $70 in gas....now that's a surprise! I was expecting the prices to still be very high. And my dad let us use his really nice and new Toyota Sienna...blessing! (This was total luxury for us compared to what we drive here in Brazil!!!) (AND I got to drive a LOT in the states...oh how I miss it!)

5. It was amazing how provision and money just kept landing in our hands....here are just a few ways. A church gave us a "love offering", during my girls brunch with friends,they pulled together to come up with some money to help us buy clothes and things we need, some people just handed money to us, and Renato got paid from my brother and parents for helping on the farm while he was there. (Also there were x-mas gifts thrown in!) Praise God!

There are countless other blessings, but I just wanted to name a few. This trip was such a blessing in so many ways, but I think seeing friends and family was the best blessing of all. We came back so refreshed and ready to go. This trip was just what we needed.

I'm truly amazed, once again, at God's faithfulness. I was kinda stressed about the trip, with all the traveling and expenses, and logistice, but again, God was faithful. Thank you Lord for wonderful suprises and blessings!!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Pictures from our trip

My dad had to get out his accordian to show Camden, and of course Camden thought it was wonderful! He would dance and dance and want Papa to play it all the time.

Camden climbing on some bales of hay. He loved being outside as much as possible....but he could only go out when the weather was warm enough. (Which he didn't like very much!)

His favorite activity....riding in the tractor with Grandpa.

We had an early Thanksgiving/Christmas party with my family. Camden got the best gift ever....a GUITAR! He LOVES music and he plays his guitar everyday now. Usually he gets it after we wakes up from his nap, then sits on his bed and "serenades" me through the monitor before I get him. Too cute! He's our little worship leader!

"Helping" grandma do some baking.

Camden doing some "treating", as he could only say "treat". :) He went with some cousins to some family and friend's houses. He was so excited about all the candy, but he's never even really eaten any. I did let him eat one whole Tootsie roll though that night....which of course he loved! (And a few licks of a very messy lolli-pop.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Back Home in Brazil

As of Nov. 28th, we set foot back on Brazilian soil. Our month long trip back to the U.S. was wonderful, but we're glad to be back home and back to a regular routine. (Even if it is crazy hot here!) I have pictures to share, just not today. That would require more effort then I can afford right now....Camden was up most of the night coughing, so that means that we were up too. So I thought I'd quickly post an update then catch a nap.

We spent most of our time in North Dakota with my family. It was such a fun time. I'm not sure what happens to me, but when I get to ND, it seems I fall into a time-warp and don't get anything done. I feel like I did absolutely nothing the whole time I was there....maybe it's just about being "home" and relaxing for me. Camden LOVED the farm. There were a few really nice days where he played and played and ran and ran and ran. Then there were some very cold days too, but he enjoyed them in the house with mommy and grandma. (Since daddy was outside the whole time helping my dad and brothers with tons of work that needed to be done.)

My parents farm is a bit like "Old MacDonald's Farm", in that it has most all of the animals you would sing about....a little boy's dream! He would run after the dogs and cats, we'd go see the cows, sheep, pig, and chickens. And since my brother and his family also live on the farm, they still have all of their old toys and swing set up, so Camden had a wonderful time playing with all sorts of "new to him" toys. But, I think the hightlights of the whole adventure of grandpa's farm, were riding on the 4-wheelers and most of all, the tractors! I think they have 3 4-wheelers on the farm now, so Camden would run from one to the other and sit on them and pretend to drive. He LOVED being on the tractors! My brother and dad would take him out with them and he couldn't get enough.

Now Camden's favorite toys are tractors. He's always saying..."Tractor, Papa, Cows, Bales". All together in one sort of "sentence", if you can call it that. :) We took lots of video for him to watch now that we're in Brazil too, so I'm sure once he sees it for the 1st time, he'll be asking to see it everyday.....if not every 10 minutes. :)

We spent 1 week in Colorado Springs. We made the 13 hour drive (15 hrs with an almost 2 yr. old) and it went well. Camden certainly is a super traveler!!! We spent all of our time meeting with as many friends as possible. We were absolutely exhausted, but yet it was so refreshing to be around and catch up with so many people that we love.

I have so much more to talk about, but I'm running low on my energy battery, so the rest will have to wait. As I said before, we had a wonderful trip and lots of fun. We loved getting to see so many family and friends. We certainly are blessed by each and every one!