The Portugal Years – Second Year: The Cat’s Meow

When we brought our little Samantha Cat home, we had not considered all the attending possibilities. Harry’s mother was a farm girl who believed animals belonged out-of-doors; he had no experience with pets. In fact, for a while, even Sammy was a little frightening to him.

Kittens, as you may know, grow into cats. Sammy took her time maturing, but when she hit puberty, all the tom cats within a square kilometer showed up around our home. My last cat was spayed. She was a cat who knew the meaning of decorum. For several weeks, Sammy “sang” and howled to the toms, and they filled in with the descant and watered the door. I didn’t need a translator to know what it meant. But, hey, how hard can it possibly be to keep one small cat in a house with closed windows and doors?

We had wanted to spay her, but we had no money for it. We did our best to keep her indoors. We thought we succeeded, but Sammy was a sly creature. One day I heard her calling me – from the outside of the house. The damage was done.

As Sammy’s girth passed mine, I considered the stories I had heard about cats wanting to make their own “nest” when they were ready to birth their offspring. It was a cold spring, and there was no central heating, I worried about the soon coming kittens surviving the cold, and ended up making a nest next to the stove in the kitchen. Just in case.

One Saturday morning I was cleaning when I realized I had a stalker. Sammy was right behind me on every step . When I stopped and looked at her, she mewed. It took me a few minutes to realize that she wanted me to follow her. Right into the kitchen and into her box she went. I petted her, and went back to my tasks. She followed me and mewed and purred. This went on for about half an hour when something clicked. I was her midwife of choice.

I felt like Prissy in Gone With the Wind. The closest I had come to a “birthin'” of any kind was a graphic movie called Emergency Childbirth that they showed us in tenth grade health class. (Three boys passed out.) But Sammy didn’t need any emergency help.  Unless I looked like leaving the room. That was verboten!

It was an extraordinary experience. Sammy purred through the ordeal. A kitten emerged about every 45 minutes until there were four of them. Sammy licked them and bit the miniscule umbilical cords like a boss. The loud purring  guided the newborns to Sammy’s teats. They were tiny, and looked more like rats than kittens.

About two weeks afterward, my doctor became concerned about something that might become a problem, and put me on bed rest for a week or so. Sammy found this unacceptable. Sammy spent about half an hour going back and forth between my bed and the box with the kittens. Then she disappeared.

I had dozed off when I felt her land rather clumsily on the foot of the bed. I opened my eyes and saw her depositing one of her kittens near me. The other three followed, and she was finally content.

Newborn siamese kitten.
Newborn siamese kitten. Their markings come as they mature.

Have you ever had an extraordinary experience with an animal?

Music Memories Monday – Vitinho

Cross-posted from The Curious Introvert

The Curious Introvert-Book Reviews and Other Fun Things

I’m cross posting on this one on the Introvert and The Portugal Years. Vitinho is an animated creation that was put together by Portuguese Television 2 that came on TV around 9 pm to advise the children it was time to go to bed. Our children knew when Vitinho came on, it was time for bed (if indeed they were still awake).

Below the video are photos front and back of the Vitinho pillow that belonged to my son, and a translation of the words. Enjoy.

It’s time for us to go to sleep

Look out there at the stars

 smiling in their sleep

and early tomorrow

very very early you will see

you will awake stronger and smarter

that means you are growing

Good night

Sweet dreams

Goodby until morning

vitinhoPillow vitinhoEstá na hora da caminha
vamos la dormir,
Vê la fora as estrelas
dormem a sorrir
e amanhã cedinho

View original post 22 more words

The Portugal Years – This and That

Construction Workers

One thing I learned early on in my time in Portugal was to ignore the comments and catcalls of the construction workers. Salazar’s government followed by a brief tenure of the Communist Party apparently set the construction business on fire. A lot of flats were under construction along a street that I had to traverse on a regular basis. I never learned exactly what they were shouting at me, but I figured I could stay out of trouble if I just refused to make eye contact and looked at the paving stones.

Over time, the blossoming of my pregnant figure became obvious to everyone, including the workers. As soon as they realized that I was pregnant, the comments and catcalls stopped. This respect continued postpartum.

Construction workers in Portugal
Construction workers in Portugal

The Bus

Once Harry could not borrow a car and drive me to my prenatal appointment with Dra. Purificacão; it was for the ultrasound. That day, I had to take public transportation to the hospital where the doctor’s office was to be found and Harry met me there. It was a two-bus project. The second bus I boarded was packed, and the only seat was by a window in the back. The man sitting there stood up to give me the window seat.

Most of the passengers were on their way back to work after their lunch break. The gentleman next to me had eaten something redolent with garlic, and  washed it down with wine. Neither of those fragrances would have bothered me under normal circumstances;  in that warm bus that was wobbling and squished in a small amount of space against the window it caused a revival of nausea. Happily, the nice man exited before it got to critical mass.


Basketball and Water

Naturally the summer that I was in full bloom turned out to be the hottest summer I ever experienced in Portugal. No, it was not my perception. The temperatures in Portugal in summer were typically comfortable and seldom exceeded 80-85 degrees  F.

The worst heatwave lasted most of the week of the Popular Saints holidays. The temperature climbed up to 104 degrees F. It was a time to have the windows open all over the house to try to find a cool breeze. With the neighbors celebrating the saints with grilled sardines and fire crackers an open window meant being cooler, but awake.

To make it even more interesting, a team of American basketball players had arrived to take part in a sports evangelism outreach. Two of them were installed in our spare bedroom. Not to put too fine of a point on it, that meant that things I might have done at night to ameliorate the heat were not possible.

The utilities in Portugal were still working on consistency of service at that time. (Before we got married, Harry survived a two-week stretch of no water.) That really hot week was the week that the water went out. Enter our neighbor, who had a well. She offered her well so we could have water. The two basketball guys got into gear and toted water upstairs where we filled pots and pans and pitchers…and the bathtub.

Portuguese basketball team.

The Portugal Years: Rock-a-Bye-Baby, the Waiting Time

The private hospital in Lisbon.
The private hospital in Lisbon

Within two weeks I was certain that the baby was rockin’ and rollin’. Especially right around the time I should have been getting up every morning. It seemed like everyone had a cure for those queasy moments. I settled for a tin of crackers by my side of the bed where I could nibble a few before I had to stand up. By and by it passed and I had more energy. Meanwhile, I started reading all of the books I could find about the upcoming event!

We were amazed and dazed during this prenatal time. We could hardly believe it. We talked about baby names among other things. Harry magnanimously said I could name the baby if it was a girl, and he would name the baby if it was a boy. I let him think that.

Other times we discussed where we would go for prenatal care and the birth. Some of the Americans flew back to the states to have their babies. Some preferred the Red Cross Hospital where the personnel spoke English. Harry felt we would be well taken care of in the Hospital Particular de Lisboa (a privately run hospital as opposed to the national health care clinics). He had me call the hospital and make an appointment.

Doutor Purificação saw us the next week. She scheduled  an ultra sound and determined that the baby would be born around mid-August. We could see the heartbeat clearly, but not much else. Ultra sound was a relatively new diagnostic tool, and fairly primitive at the time.

Portuguese friends and Americans were excited with us. The field director’s wife made a beautifully embroidered maternity dress that was perfect for the summer weather. My parents began to make plans to fly to Portugal after the baby arrived. My Angolan neighbor was concerned that I was too thin and several times brought meals to me. I was still queasy when she brought a squid stew. The tentacles waved at me from the bowl, but I thought I needed to at least try it, and it was fabulous.


Meanwhile, António Figueira was marrying his sweetheart, Ana Maria. So, on April 18th, 1981 so  we rode down to Beja to his the church there. The families had been cooking and baking for days getting read for the festivities. It was an amazing, but tiring day. The weather was warm, and we stopped at a café on the way home. It was the only coffee I drank during the waiting time.


What is the best wedding food you’ve ever eaten?

Portuguese Cuisine: Chocolate Mousse

Harry has a large sweet tooth, so he had already sampled all of the sweets he could find before I got to Portugal. One favorite of both of us is chocolate mousse. Please note, mousse is not the same a mouse. It’s a rich, delicious chocolate pudding. It’s simple to make and has only a few ingredients. The one thing you might want to change up is mixing in the raw egg whites. You can buy powdered egg whites wherever they sell Wilton products (department stores generally carry them).

Chocolate Mousse

3 – 4 ounce bars of medium to dark chocolate
whites of three eggs
1 tablespoon of real vanilla extract
2 tablespoons of real butter
yolks of three eggs
3 tablespoons water

1) Break the chocolate bars into pieces, and then slowly heat it while stirring until it is melted but not burnt.
2) Let it cool a little bit then add the vanilla extract and the butter and stir them into the chocolate.
3) Stir constantly as you add the egg yolks one at a time.  Next, beat egg whites till stiff then gently fold them into the chocolate mixture until they are mixed well in.
4) Divide the mixture into pudding bowls, cover and put into the refrigerator overnight.

Mousse de chocolate

The Portugal Years – Year Two: Winter


New York City is on the same parallel as Portugal, but the Jet Stream moderates Portugal’s climate. Summer is less humid and hot, and except in the north of Portugal, winter seldom pulls the freezing card. Nevertheless, the cold we did get was a force that drove us to layer on clothing and blankets, and to make as many oven meals as we possibly could.

We had no central heating (or cooling). There was no insulation in our home. It was cold and humid during the rainy season. We seldom saw snow except in photos of the mountains in the north of Portugal. What we got plenty of was rain.  frio_2

The rain arrived some time in October, and took its good old time leaving in April. Usually. Umbrellas were our daily accessories as we waited at bus stops and walked on the wet, cobbled sidewalks. That year, I tried to remember the sun, but by January it seemed like an old wives’ tale.

The weather brooded over my emotions. Seven months before we had committed to parenthood, but parenthood had stood us up. Granted, it had not been a really long wait as waiting goes, but it was a painful one for us.

Twice during those seven months I walked to the pharmacy to verify what I thought was a pregnancy. Twice I walked home with my hopes dashed. I wondered why it seemed that some women had only to think a pregnancy into being. Every pregnant woman that I saw stirred my envy and I dreaded the well meant but frequent question, “Are you pregnant yet?”

On January 20, 1981 Harry thought I should go to the pharmacy yet again. I decided that I was too fragile to do that. So when he got home from work, he borrowed a car and took the little jar to have the contents analyzed. Half an hour later, he burst in the door grinning from ear to ear; Harry had lassoed the stork.


Have you ever waited a long time for something? What was it?