Cat’s Eye View

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Tabby kittenHe flopped out of the basket and righted himself. Taking in his surroundings, he wandered on unsteady feet out of the kitchen and in an uncertain direction to explore the world.

Grandma scooped him up and placed him back in the basket with a tch of her tongue. “That kitten is hungry. What a shame! Look at him! He keeps leaving the basket to look for food.”

I paused and gently put my coffee cup down on the table, selecting my words carefully. “Uhm… Y’know…that looks like normal, curious kitten behavior to me… He’s just ahead of the rest. Momma-Cat is going to go nuts in a few weeks when all of them start doing that.”

“No, no. He’s hungry. Sua leite não está sostentando. Her milk must not be enough for him. What a pity.” She eyed the new family and shook her head.

I came back a week later and a grandkid was gently feeding one of the kittens milk from a tiny bottle. The little grey and white kitten, the adventurer, was nowhere to be seen. Grandkiddo explained to me: “Two of the kittens died of starvation. Sua leite não estaba sostentando. Her milk wasn’t enough for them.”

A minor tragedy, to be sure. I was looking forward to watching that little pirate grow up.

As I sipped my coffee and nibbled my biscoito and watched the two surviving kittens tumble around the kitchen, I contemplated the echoed language because consider this fact: in general mothers’ milk is a supply-and-demand sort of deal. If the babies need a lot, mother’s milk production usually ramps up to match. If there is no longer a demand–say because you fill their bellies with bottle-fed milk–then mom’s naturally going to make less milk. And it’s going to reinforce your perception that her milk wasn’t enough for them. Nasty little cycle, huh?

Now, kitten-killer is a strong accusation. I won’t go there. Only God and Momma-Cat will ever know what truly happened. But the whole thing got me thinking: our analysis of a problem really colors the outcome, doesn’t it?

How often do we do this in life? We define a problem a certain way, this leads to a particular, seemingly logical solution. I’m just as guilty of this as the next person. Mountain-from-Molehills Builder, Expert Level, that’s me.

But what if that wasn’t the problem at all?

Maybe there wasn’t even a problem?

What if it’s just us defining a completely natural pattern as problematic? Drama is as drama does, sure enough. Go looking for it, and you’ll find it.

The next time you are faced with truly tough kerfuffle, stop and step back. How many different explanations for this same problem can you brainstorm? In some of those alternate realities, is this problem Ok? Maybe you can let it go? Or what doors does your new perspective open? Do your strategies change? Or maybe just sit and save some of that dramatic energy until you watch the situation a while and decide if it really needs your intervention?

As the saying goes: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And the older I get the more that I realize that fewer things are broken than we (I) think.

Fotocrônica: I’ve Arrived

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It’s orange season! Around here almost everyone has an orange tree in their back yard, or knows someone who does. We all sit around snacking on oranges until we can’t stand it anymore. Most of these trees are juice oranges and they don’t peel easily. Thus, the correct way to eat a Brazilian orange is to slice off the bitter outer rind, lop off one end, and then suck out all the juice. Eating the inner fruit flesh is optional.

I can peel an apple or a potato in my sleep. It took me a few years to master the slicing of the orange rind. Too close and the next step of sucking the juice gets really messy.  Too thin and you’re left with too much rind and your lips get burnt by the essential oils. On these thin-skinned juice oranges, you’ve got to hit it just right. If you’re really good you can get it all in one, long strip.

I’ve arrived. Can I have my honorary Brazilian card now?

Orange Rind

In Her Eyes

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babyeyeMy daughter has eyes like Brazilian coffee
So dark that when she looks upward they reflect the sky.
“Oh look!” they say, “Her eyes are turning blue!
How wonderful!”
“Mmmm…” I say.
Not really.
Her hair began a dark cloud
and is brightening
to the sunny brown of my childhood.
“Oh look!” they say, “She’s going to be blonde!
So lucky!”
Maybe.
But not likely.
This, from a family
whose collective dark beauty
will steal your breath away.
I felt sorry for them
Seeking features of the Other
for what’s beautiful.

So there I sat
aiming my slingshot at them
out the windows of my glass house.
So busy looking for
them in her
that I overlooked
all that was myself.
One day I opened my eyes
and realized that God
in her all-knowing wisdom
had challenged me
with a Mini-Me.
God, that minx.

I can love her father’s features,
but love the eyes,
the hair,
the chin
that in over 30 years
I have only learned to tolerate
as “good enough”?

God, She gave me a mountain to climb.
God, She’s asking me to love myself better
because this little one needs it.
My daughter is beautiful,
and she is me.
I’ve gotta master this thing,
and fast.
Find joy in my features,
learn to see love in the mirror
so that when those dark eyes
turn towards the sun that is Mother,
all that is reflected
is Love.

Getting Ready for the Copa

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"El Otro Mundial" (The Other World Cup)- shared by Hassan on Facebook.

“El Otro Mundial” (The Other World Cup) – shared by Hassam on Facebook.

Here in our rural hideaway we’re pretty removed from all the World Cup preparations. The shops are all selling yellow and green t-shirts, hats, and vuvuvelas and everyone is staking out their favorite place in front of a big-screen TV, of course. Mr. Crônicas is lining up a back-up plan for when the satellite dish decides to play its tricks and malfunction mid-game. But other than that it’s life as normal around here. Since all the Brazilian games are in the late afternoon, it’s likely that most stores will remain open and not much will feel different.

In today’s morning newscast there was a piece about how the Belo Horizonte bus station has been updated to receive tourists in three languages: Portuguese, Spanish and English. Now THAT’S interesting. Up until now we’ve traveled the eight hours to Belo Horizonte to meet visiting relatives because while the airport is beautiful, modern, and very manageable, until recently the BH bus station has been unnavigable for anyone not fluent in Portuguese.

Here’s the newscast if you’d like a glimpse.

It’s a good summary of the themes swirling around the World Cup.

The bus station is in disrepair. The station’s roof is leaking (they say they’ll have it fixed by the time the World Cup happens), and the escalator isn’t working (because the needed part is no longer in fabrication). Detractors will highlight that meanwhile  the new Minerão stadium in BH cost 695 million reais, coming in at nearly twice its original budget of R$426 million. They say it would have been nice to use a bit of that money to improve infrastructure that Brazilians use heavily on a daily basis–e.g., the bus station. Proponents will highlight that the stadium was ready on-time (unlike other stadiums in other states that are on an all-nighter crunch to be done by the time the games start), and it is already being used for other, big-name events, bringing extra revenue to the region.

Back at the bus station, the newly placed tri-lingual signs are adequate and adorable in their stilted English: “elevator” in Portuguese was translated using the British “lift” (what do they say in Australia? Maybe we Americans are out-numbered after all) and they translated “Guarda Municipal” literally– “Municipal Guard.” I’m not sure I’d know what to do with that if I were a traveler, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t know to seek them out if my bags were stolen! Brazilians are endeavoring earnestly to get literate for the Copa, but it may just be a case of too-little, too-late.

What do I feel about all this?

My family has joked for a while that I should dust off my old resume and that I should place myself in the BH bus station with a t-shirt and some brochures that announce “Interpreter” and make some easy money during the World Cup. Maybe they’re onto something. Just those signs isn’t going to solve much.

As for the Minerão, I’m glad that we have a new venue closer to us than São Paolo or Rio, but any sane taxpayer would choke at the pricetag. Whoever signed off on that has a lot of explaining to do.

And the bus station? While there may be new signs, it’s still got tons of pickpockets. The World Cup monies didn’t go towards to solving that particular problem. So, we’ll still be meeting our family at the airport.

100 Brazilian Dishes: Vaca Atolada

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tasty!

tasty!

My husband and his construction crew are proving themselves to be excellent cooks.  Although most of their recipes seem to demand large amounts of meat and the world’s largest pressure cooker.  This week’s menu selection was vaca atolada.  I did a little, hidden dance of joy over behind the sacks of plaster because it was on my 100 Brazilian Dishes to-do list.

Initially the name was confusing to me. “There’s a food named “stuck cow”?” Many images came to mind, none of them remotely related to food.  I couldn’t imagine what this dish would look like.

With time and experience on the farm the name is starting to make sense. You see, every so often a cow stupidly wanders into a swampy part of the farm, and she gets stuck. It takes multiple men to pull her out and even if you can round-up the necessary number of strong bodies to get her out oftentimes the cow dies of shock a few days later anyhow (they always seem to choose to get stuck over the weekend once the vet supply stores have closed and emergency meds become unavailable…argh). So Vaca Atolada is the recipe for what you do with all that wasted meat.

Main ingredients: meat on the bone, pequi fruit, and yucca. It’s all stewed together until the meat and yucca are tender. The pequi fruit gives the sauce a light, floral flavor reminiscent of jasmine in Indian cuisine. Delicious.

Apparently you can use any meat on the bone, not just cow meat.  I found this funny, and told my husband so:

Me: “Uai, what do you mean that can you use any meat?”

He: “Sure, you can use chicken, beef, whatever.”

Me: “But the name of the dish is vaca atolada.  Stuck Cow.  You can’t use anything else.”

He: “But then it becomes Stuck Chicken.”

You can’t argue with a logic like that.

Munchies

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Our latest addition

Our latest addition – Veadinha (“Little Deer”)

She came to us because her mother died in a tragic accident.   Our relatives couldn’t raise her, so they brought this little orphan to us. How could you say “no” to those big brown eyes?

Veadiniha (“Little Deer”) is too young to put straight out into the pasture to feed.  She’s been living within the fenced house part of our farm and getting daily milk bottle feedings. Cute as heck. Also ravenous. She’s moving to solid food and has discovered a sweet tooth for my portulaca and purslane plants (judging from the unexpected, strong lemon scent that wafted in our windows one afternoon I suspect she also sampled the lemon verbena, but thankfully it wasn’t to her liking). She has munched every last one down to a nubbin. Which is a real shame, because they’re one of the few flowers that thrive and bloom during our dry summers.

I pulled out the roots of the devastated plants and babied 90% of them back to life (a few casualties, but in general thank god it’s a hardy plant!). I’ll resettle them once Veadinha is grown and moved back to the larger herd.

A refugee camp has been established on the countertop of our outdoor kitchen to preserve the survivors. They share space with my precious strawberry plant that the chickens would love to peck, the cutter ants would love to trim, and the farmcat would love to use as a litter box.

Let’s hope she doesn’t take a liking to anything else–it’s getting crowded around here!

The Refugees