The Portugal Years: Year Six – Things That Grow

Jade Plants courtesy of blogs.vancouversun.com-
Jade Plants courtesy of blogs.vancouversun.com-

Until  we moved to Florida, I’ve never had trouble taking care of my house plants. We had geraniums on the veranda along with jade plants. They loved the climate and grew to magnificent sizes. I discoverer something on the jade plants that I had never seen in the states: they had tiny flowers blooming in the winter. I had an African violet in the house.

Plants were not the only thing that thrived in our home. Our cat, Fofinha, had been to the vet for an operation. After that she made herself at home, and grew. She made peace with Susie after she got into Susie’s food that I was warming on the stove once; she regretted it afterward.

Eventually, we had a pair of canaries courtesy of my friend who opened her own flower and bird shop. They were Caruso and Kate (short for Kate Smith). Caruso’s song was complex and always lifted my heart. When Kate laid eggs, we loved watching how he fed her so she could feed the chicks.

 

I'm being a good kitty now.
Do I really look like someone who would eat the baby’s food?                                                                                                                                                                                              

Bethy had grown up a lot that year she turned four years old and began to lose her baby looks. Being the big sister sobered her to a degree as well. She worried about Susie’s unpredictable moments. A lot. (And I think she still worries at times.)  Christmas was a familiar friend by then.

Susie didn’t know what Christmas was, but she was ready to party. She clung to her habit of waking me several times a night, and I decided that our family size had reached its limit. Never again. Harry and I had also been growing along side of the girls; it is difficult not to when you have two young children whose needs often required to be dealt with before our own.

Right after Christmas, it was Susie’s first birthday. Of course she had a chocolate cake. She was a proper girl!

Both girls were growing rapidly.
Both girls were growing rapidly.

 

Susie's First Birthday
Susie’s First Birthday

 

 

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The Portugal Years: Great Expectations

Well, we all had some expectations after the flood. Bethy was expecting to watch the television after the rain let up, and we were back in our own home. Twelve days without electricity was a long time for a two-year to wait, but her expectation came to fruition and she was once again nestled in her chair  watching her Abelha  Maia.

Abelha Maia
Abelha Maia

Bethy also anticipated being able to ride her bike outside. That was also an expectation  fulfilled –  but only in part. The garden and the paving stones were in the process of being rehabilitated from the muck and slime. But, she did well on the front varanda safely over the the part of the neighbor’s farm that had come to rest at our abode.

Loving riding on the varanda.
Loving riding on the varanda.

Thanksgiving peeked around the corner and prompted our gratitude for all that we had in spite of the mess. Our house was intact, and we had an electric radiator that we could move from place to place in the cold winter temperature. The rooms all had doors that we could close to keep us warm in whatever we needed to do.

We were healthy, and had enough. Our salary was not generous, but we had enough for our daily bread and a little more. Our expectation was that our Heavenly Father would continue to provide – and He did. We had Elisabeth. Each day I marveled as I saw her growing and learning.

Soon our expectations of Christmas crept up on us. Money and presents arrived from family and friends in the states. It was only Bethy’s second Christmas, and she had few expectations. Nevertheless, we enjoyed shopping for her. We had decorated the tree shortly after Thanksgiving, and her eyes were wide with joy,  wonder and a bit of apprehension. But, we had another expectation in that Christmas tide.

'Twas the night before Christmas....
‘T was the night before Christmas….
Christmas Morning
Christmas Morning

Our other expectation was about a very young lady who had yet to show her face. She had a name (Sarah Susanna) and Harry’s expectation was that she would be born on his birthday, January 7th. The doctor said she could come at any time. With that expectation in mind, we bought Bethy a baby doll named Susie, and a crib to put her in. We hoped thought that it would help Bethy make the transition from only child to  big sister. The time was getting close, but not soon enough for me.

 

Elisabeth with the baby doll and the cradle.
Elisabeth with the baby doll and the cradle.

 

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. 

Just When You Thought the Party Was Over

In my family, Christmas ended when December 26th arrived. We always sang about the twelve days of Christmas, but we didn’t know that the song held a wealth of uncharted tradition. In Portugal, Christmas Day was only the beginning of celebration. It ended on January 6th, when we celebrated King Day to remember the Wise Men who traveled long and far to see the Christ child. In American liturgical churches, we call it Epiphany.

The King Cake – Bolo Rei – is ubiquitous all during the holiday season. Bolo Rei attended every party and every get together during December and into January. It is a beautiful and delicious cake made from a rich yeast dough laced with spirits. The cake had dried fruits, candied fruits and nuts in the batter.

The cake had two hidden secrets inside that were wrapped in parchment paper: a coin, and a fava bean. There are different customs around the country, but what I was told was that the person who had the coin (or toy) in his slice would have good fortune for the next year. The person who got the fava would have to bring the Bolo Rei next time. The cake was always good fresh and even better toasted and buttered the day after.

On January first, I was done with Christmas and ready to take the tree down and get back to whatever would be closest to normal. Then Harry asked me, “Why are you taking the tree down already? My mom always left the tree up until after my birthday on the seventh. And she always made me a Red Velvet Cake.” Birthday? Ooops!!

bolo rei
Bolo Rei

The Portugal Years – Year 1: Our First Christmas

Roasted Chestnuts
Roasted Chestnuts

In November, the weather was rainy and cold. Black umbrellas, black clothes and long nights were the new normal. We moved from fall into winter. Few Portuguese homes had insulation, and none that I knew of had central heating.

I started baking more often to keep the house warm. There was a portable gas heater, but I was concerned about it using up all the oxygen. We layered our clothes according to the temperature. Our tea kettle whistled often and we made tea. Being newlyweds, we didn’t need a good excuse for extra cuddling for warmth. And that was when we learned not to combine making tea with, um, cuddling.

One liter of milk
One liter of milk

By mid-December long lines of people were waiting patiently for their bacalhau (dried codfish).  Boiled dried codfish is a Portuguese Christmas tradition.  That year it was scarce.

The cows went dry in December as was their custom. Until then, we had been buying fresh milk in disposable plastic bags. Our only milk resource after that was boxes of milk with a shelf life. That was a shock to my culinary expectations.

chestnuts roasting
Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire

There were comforts for the season. One was roasted chestnuts. The smell of them roasting was a come hither fragrance. I’d never had them before, I but took to them like an ant does to sugar. Along the streets the vendors had their little brazier of chestnuts. They were an inexpensive treat that came wrapped in a paper cone, satisfied your hunger and warmed your hands.

About a week before Christmas, Harry borrowed a car and we went looking for a Christmas tree. We found a long-needled pine tree that we thought would look nice in our apartment. The ceiling was high, so we picked a tall tree. Too tall as it turned out. We cut it down, but it still brushed the ceiling. The next job was to decorate. All we had was a handful of ornaments that my former students had given me. What we did have were hidden in the pine needles. But, as long as Harry had his favorite cookies, he was good.

I was looking forward to the holiday break from language school. I had plans to read  books, play with my Samantha cat and just kick back. Didn’t happen. Right before Christmas day, Harry announced that he was coming home with a family of Americans who had just arrived. They would be working with a missions organization in Portugal and needed somewhere to stay until they found a place to live.

They were some of the most delightful folks I have ever met, but I was selfish. I really didn’t want to share our first Christmas together with anyone. Eventually, I got over it. Mostly. It wasn’t long until we become friends with them. But Harry and I did talk about how important it is to make sure that we communicate with each other before making major decisions. (We still haven’t agreed the definition of “major decision”.)

One other memorable thing happened that winter. In December, color television came to Portugal. And color TV created a revolution. When the favorite Brazilian dramas turned up in living color, the women’s clothing industry began to sell lighter, brighter clothing. And there I sat with all of my new dark wardrobe. 😀

Dona Xepa, Brazilian Soap Opera
Dona Xepa, Brazilian Soap Opera

What is your most memorable holiday that you’ve experienced? Why? (It can be any holiday, not just Christmas.)

pine

The Portugal Adventure – Part 7 – The Long Year – Baby

Christmas was over. The decorations, as always, had come down on January first. My sister’s baby was overdue. She felt clumsy, and desolate. For over nine months, she had nurtured this beloved little life in her own body. But she had agreed to give this child up for adoption to a family. She was told the family could give her baby a good life. Her heart felt first ripped in two and then shredded. She wanted the baby. Someone who would be hers. I don’t know how she got through those days.  Some days we  waited with her at the edge of her pool of despair as she waited to birth a baby that she would never cuddle. Something just did not feel right.

Two weeks past her “due date” in the middle of the night of Tuesday January 16 into Wednesday January 17, my sister got my mom and dad up to take her to the hospital. Those were the days that I could go back to sleep easily, and being superfluous in this part of the adventure, I went back to bed. Wednesday was a school day.

I was up and dressed for school when my parents returned from the hospital. They told me the baby was a boy who weighed about nine pounds. My sister would be coming home in a couple of days. Alone. When she did come home, there was no way to comfort her. She had handed her son over to the couple who wanted to adopt him. She was dejection on an island of abandoned hope.

But unknown to me, she did have one hope. The baby’s father is a kid magnet. He loved my sister and he loved kids; she knew he would fight for his baby. Pennsylvania adoption law requires a signature from both parents before the adoption can be finalized. The baby, who was born on his father’s birthday had an advocate.  A week after my sister walked away from her baby, she was in the lawyer’s office where she picked up her son up to bring him home. baby

On the way home, my brand new nephew  paid a visit to his great grandmother. She held him, loved on him, blessed him and prayed over him. Then, my sister brought him home. And he was beautiful.