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?

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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.

Bus.
Bus.

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.

basketball
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.

squid

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.

casamento

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

Ingredients:
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

Directions:
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
Mousse de chocolate

The Portugal Years – Year Two: Winter

chuva

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.

cowboy-lasso

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

A Merry Portuguese Christmas

Harry and I have many happy holiday memories from our Portuguese Adventure. For me, though, our second Christmas stands out over all the others. We were members of the Igreja Evangélica de Algés at the time. Although Americans attended there, it was totally Portuguese in tradition and the congregation was amazing. Irmão Fernando Resina was one of the teaching elders. Our second Christmas in Portugal he and his wife invited us to eat supper with their family on Christmas Eve.

The adventure began when I asked Harry what time we would need to be there. He said, “Around 9:30 p.m.” I’ve always been a morning lark, and that made me blink. But, such a delightful invitation, offered in love was irresistible.

Before we left home on Christmas Eve, we had a snack around 6 p.m., and began to get ready to go. We borrowed the ministry van since it would be too late after supper to find public transportation. In addition, my tummy was feeling like I was coming down with the flu.

We arrived around 9:30, right on time, but the party had not begun. (Later I learned that it in Portugal, generally “on time” can be up to 45 minutes after the hour of the invitation. The Resina children had put their boots by the stove for Pai Natal (Father Christmas) to put presents in at midnight. The tree was beautifully decorated.  I learned that evening that, in general, Evangelical Christians had trees and Pai Natal who brought gifts;  Catholic Christians had manger scenes, and the Christ Child brought the gifts.

prespio

Bacalhau Cozido

Around 10:30 p.m., our hostess called us to the table. There was the traditional Bacalhau Cozido (boiled codfish).  That included salted cod fish, reconstituted and boiled. There was cabbage, boiled potatoes, and broccoli on the side. It was my first Bacalhau Cozido, and I really enjoyed it. As we finished the bacalhau, family members began clearing the table. I was comfortably full, and it was around 11 p.m.

Galo assado

To my surprise, there was another course; the galo assado, a roasted fowl that had once upon a time crowed at sunrise. Salad, and homemade potato chips accompanied it. I had slowed down on eating, feeling fine and was hoping the flu had given up on me.

Following the fowl, bowls of canja (chicken soup) appeared on the table. It was delicious, but I couldn’t eat much.  I was hoping that no one would be offended by my waning enthusiasm for food.

Bolo Rei

And there was more. We were directed to the dessert table. It was smothered with attractive sweets from rice pudding to Bolo Rei (King Cake). I’d never seen so many kinds of different pastries and puddings in my life. I nibbled a little here and there, and they were amazing. It was truly a feast fit to honor the King of kings. And no unhappy tummy all night.

Around midnight the children got their boots, and opened their presents. Food, fun and fellowship ran riot that night. Soon after midnight, we got into the van and drove back across town to our neighborhood.

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to all of you. I look forward to sharing more about Portugal and our time there in January. 

The Portugal Years – Year Two: A Call In the Night

Year two gave me time to observe and practice the Portuguese language. One of the things that helped me with the language was reading Agatha Christie’s mysteries in Portuguese. It was especially helpful with the idioms.

agatha christie

There was a lot to learn about this country that had existed for hundreds of years, and I enjoyed every minute of learning. At one time, Portugal had a world-wide empire. The map shows all of the places the Portuguese claimed. 

the_portuguese_empire1

In the 1970’s, Angola and Mozambique both fought a war for independence from Portugal and each followed it up with civil wars. You can read the details if you are interested here and here. One of the outcomes was that Portugal was flooded by immigrants from both of those countries. In the beginning, they were white immigrants, but as thousands of people were being killed, the black Africans also flooded Portugal. Many of them built a place to live out of wood and metal roofing. I was fascinated by their ability to make do and survive under such adverse conditions.

International-Herald-Tribune

Watching the news on Portuguese television was a revelation, too. When you are accustomed to United States-centric news, it gives you a new perspective. The Portuguese news reporters also reported news from the US, but not usually in depth. When it came to the World Series, though, Harry had to buy copies of the International Herald Tribune. That year, 1980, was looking good for the Phillies as they played game six against the Kansas City Royals at Veterans Stadium.

Rotaryphone1

There’s nothing quite as disturbing as a jangling phone ringing at 2 a.m. It is downright worrisome. Harry rolled out of bed, picked up the phone and said, “Está?” Then he started talking in English with a side of jubilee. His dad had called as soon as the game was over to let Harry know that the Phillies were the world champions. Of course, the next night we had a post World Series party.

Have you ever been awakened in the middle of the night?