Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Birthday Girl

On Saturday we had a birthday party to celebrate Gigi's first year! Her actual birthday isn't until April, but because we had two weeks in March with Marcos' parents visiting, we decided to hold the festivities early so that they could celebrate with us. In Brazil, first birthdays are a huge deal, and in Hawaii they are an even bigger deal. So, to maintain Gigi's cultural legacy, we decided to throw a party.

A few months ago when I started planning and doing research for the party, I had the idea of renting the pavilion at one of our local parks. "It's the end of March in North Carolina", I thought, "the weather will totally be fine". Well, we have had a lot of really hot days this month, but Saturday wasn't one of them. As the days grew closer, the weather predictions were awful: 49 degrees and a 55% chance of rain for the weekend! So, on Saturday morning, we made the executive decision to bring the party indoors to our friend Jill's house, who graciously volunteered that very morning to host the bash. We are still brainstorming on how to repay Jill and her family for their extreme kindness. What can you do to say thanks for a deed like that?

And did I mention that 82 people showed up?

Fortunately the transition to indoors was smooth, because we had very little time to adjust. I grieved initially when I thought about the change, because I had made some very specific plans for the outdoor space. I had gone and measured the pavilion's picnic tables, sewed a tablecloth to fit the exact dimensions, found the perfect tree for hanging big paper poms above Gigi's highchair for her cake eating moment, and purchased the bubbles and water bottles we would need for a sunny, hot day. But lo and behold, the tablecloth fit Jill's table, the jars of daisies transitioned nicely to her space, and the the rest of the things I had so carefully planned for quickly fell off of the "important" list.

"Gigi goes to Stanford" is our savings account for Gigi's college fund. We requested that our friends not bring gifts, but that if it didn't feel like a party without an exchange, they could donate no more than $5 per family to a piggy bank we would put out for Gigi's college fund (don't birthday parties feel cost prohibitive sometimes?). I found the piggy bank at a store, but it came covered with the words "Divas Only", and sporting crossbones and skulls. Um, no. Luckily I had paint left over from the dresser I refinished a while back, and so I slapped on a few layers and it transformed into something cute. Whew! Extreme weirdness averted.

From the original hatchings of the birthday party plan, and after I gave up the idea of being able to afford an entire meal for our guests, I started to formulate the idea of a bundt cake party. These photos were taken before the party when calm and peace still prevailed, and so not all of the cakes were set out yet, but I think that the effect came out just like I had envisioned it. With bundt cakes from four of my talented friends and one that I baked, there was just enough so that everyone could sample the cakes that sang to them: Becca made a hot milk bundt cake with strawberries and fresh whipped cream, Emily made a chocolate orange chunk cake slathered with a rich chocolate ganache, Angela made a banana cake with cream cheese frosting and walnuts, Ali made an applesauce cinnamon cake with vanilla frosting, and I baked a chocolate zucchini cake with a chocolate glaze. During the party I was too busy to stop and eat, but my in-laws were thoughtful enough to make me a sampler plate. After the party when I had a chance to sit down, it was a bit of Heaven on earth to enjoy the cakes that my friends had brought. They were so. good.

When our friends arrived, we kicked off the party with a welcome, some introductions, Gigi trivia game and the birthday song. Gigi was the center of a room full of people, and she wildly flailed her arms, kicked her legs and clapped to the song. When we gave her a piece of cake, she picked at it and sampled the chocolate. It was her first time with free reign to a piece of cake.

She didn't exactly face plant into the cake, but the rest of us sure wanted to.

The night before the party I had an idea to cut out party hats for the kiddos to decorate. Marcos' family owns a locksmith shop in their hometown in Brazil, and they make rubber stamps at the shop. We designed a stamp for the party favor tags that read "Hooray, hooray, it's Gigi's birthday", we sent the design to Brazil, and Marcos' mom brought the beautiful finished product from Brazil for us. So, I used the stamp to give the hats a theme as well. Not knowing before hand that we would have to move the party inside, I was grateful that I had made an "indoor activity" for some of the younger kiddos, since we ended up not doing some of the outdoor games I had planned.

Along with having bundt cakes, Marcos' mom and sister made brigadeiros for the party, which are little fudgey balls, and another of our Brazilian friends brought beijinhos, which are similar to brigadeiros but have a coconut flavor instead of chocolate. Divine!

Another bonus of having Gigi's party at Jill and Co.'s was the amenities. Initially I was just grateful to have a space indoors for our friends and family to gather, but there were so many other lovely perks. One was the wide table in the corner that was filled with playmobil toy sets. At one point Gigi joined her boyfriends at the table to play with the vikings.

And then... there were mustaches.

...and more mustaches.

Marcos' dad sporting a party hat. I am absolutely grateful times a million that Marcos parents and sister were able to celebrate Gigi's birthday with us. They were so helpful with all of the food preparations and execution, and so lovely to help me work out a schedule so that the event would be enjoyable and not stressful. The final two days before the party would have been a lot less pleasant without their willingness to lend and hand and pick up some of the pieces that I could no longer manage. ♥ times a million.

Another fabulous Jill and Co. amenity.

And finally, the favors: Organic juice box. Tiny bubbles. Home crafted crayons I melted into dinosaurs and Eiffel Towers. And a few of my favorite Brazilian candies.

In the evening, after returning Jill and Co.'s house to reasonable calm and cleanliness, we brought the friends and family who had traveled from all over the state for Gigi's party over for dinner at our place. It felt sort of like the "after party" with 25 people in our 800 square foot apartment. Marcos' mom and sister had made baião de dois - an amazing beans and rice dish - which we ate with a big salad and Susan's homemade bread, and Gigi had a chance to open the 7 or 8 gifts that our rebellious friends had brought for her. It was a great way to end what had become a most amazing day with our friends and family. This girl is so loved.

(So, whew!, thank you for reading to the very end. I mainly needed to write this out in detail because I have a memory like a steel sieve and there are some things that I don't ever want to forget. We felt like the party was a big hit, but after this first hoorah, we are quite certain that we are the type of family to do parties every other year. Or maybe every ten years...)

Samba no Sangue

Marcos' sister Liz likes to find the best of Brazilian samba for us to dance to in the house, and Gigi always joins the party. This week Marcos' dad saw her dancing and exclaimed, "Samba no sangue!" (Samba in the blood). Why yes, yes she does!

Here's Gigi partying down. Colbie doesn't quite count as samba, but Gigi is no respecter of music genres.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

"We are All OK Desu"

I'm not a person who enjoys crying, or sad movies, or cutting onions.

Which is why I've had such a hard time emotionally approaching the situation in Japan. The day after the earthquake and tsunami in Sendai, I awoke in the morning to the news of the destruction, and watching the video coverage was absolutely heart breaking. Having lived in the Tokyo area for a year and a half (Marcos was there for two years) serving a mission for our church, the Japanese people and country of Japan mean so much to us. As the death toll in Sendai has risen, and the video coverage expanded to include videography from people standing on site on high ground, and I have seen images of the bright healthy green of a beautiful countryside of rice paddies turned into brown wasteland, I have felt myself stepping backwards from the situation out of emotional self-preservation. It is just too close to home. We have sent money, and prayers, and have tried to do our piece, but I have felt so helpless in the face of such expansive destruction. This is the first natural disaster that has effected us on a personal level.

Fortunately, I have heard back from pretty much all of the families with whom we still keep in contact, and everyone is well and accounted for. We lived far enough away from Sendai that most of our friends felt the earthquake but were not in the areas that were so widely damaged. Today I received an email from Ueda San, a mother of a sweet family I was close to in Chiba-Inage. It is a reminder to me of how incredible the Japanese people are, how committed, how hopeful and how resilient.

Her email subject was, "We are All OK Desu".

Dear Metta,

Hello, I'm very sorry that haven't write you such a long time. How are you?

Our family, we are all ok. as you know, we had a really heavy earthquake two weeks ago. But we live in Chiba, it is center of Japan. we are all OK nobady hurt, though we felt heavy impact never done before. However people who live in Miyagi Iwate and Fukushima lost their family, yard , job or more very importnat things.

So I feel very sad to think about them. and more over Nuclear plants in Fukushima had broken by the earthquakes and tsunamis. people lives in Fukushima, near the plant need to take refuge from there. I live in Chiba it far from Fukushima, 200KM, but the air and the water polluted. even thougt it is very few, I anxious it. it was the worst natural disaster in thre history of Japan.

However it brought us time to concider.
How much we are happy with our family, How much we are happy to eat every day every time.
How much we are happy without any anxiety or concern.
How much we are happy we can use the water, light, gas when we want to use.
it is really tahnksful and great things.
we recgnize how much happy we are, again.

We Japanese and Japan come up really hard thing now. I really hope that the worst things will change for the better as soon as possible.

Well, Thank you for reading. talk to you soon.



Thursday, March 24, 2011

Special Deliveries

This week has been full of special deliveries.

Last Wednesday, Marcos' mother arrived from Sao Paulo, Brazil. On Friday his sister Liz also joined us for the weekend from where she is working in Greenville, NC, and today Marcos' father also came from Brazil to join the party! We have been so spoiled. I almost feel badly that our small apartment quickly turns into such a tornado with all of our company camping out, but having such fun, helpful, and gracious visitors means that we are enjoying each other too much to bother with such trifles.

Another special delivery showed up last Friday when Liz joined us for the weekend. Friday was her birthday, and a guy friend of hers who is living in Afghanistan sent her 100 long stemmed red roses. Yes, 100, and they were taller than Gigi. It was slightly insane.

So, if the higher education plan doesn't pan out, the good news is that we definitely have a back up in the flower business.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Onze, elf, eleven, jyuuichi

We are entering the countdown: on the 10th Gigi made 11 months old, and we are coming up on a birthday party!

But we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves. Let's talk about Gigi at 11 months old.

Unlike her tenth month, this eleventh month has been fairly eventful:

This month she got tubes put in her ears by our friend Alisha West, who is an ENT surgeon at the UNC neuroscience hospital. The procedure lasted about 15 minutes, and although Gigi was disoriented and unhappy coming out of general anesthesia, with a snuggle from mommy and some time with the boob, she sacked out in my arms and slept most of the day. This is us in the hospital just before we separated for the operation. Thankfully they whisked her away and said, "see you in a few" instead of letting us engage in a long, drawn out farewell. In general, our experience with this process was speedy and satisfying.

A few days after the procedure, Gigi had a few fussy nights, and we were hoping beyond hope that it wasn't more ear issues. Then one day I noticed that she had a new white ridge of tooth poking up from her gums, right next to her other two teeth. And that explained that one. (Good thing none of us can remember that first year of life - it's just one pain after another!).

But since her operation we feel like we have our happy, curious, sweet little girl back. She is such a social rock star. She waves at people in the grocery store, sometimes she says "hi" in her little voice, she loves to wave and point at people, and she flirts and smiles at strangers. Our favorite new development this month is her musicality: any time we play music and the song is particularly catchy, she rocks back and forth, bops up and down, or claps her hands to the rhythm.

And like her mama, this girl is independent. She plays extremely well by herself, and enjoys her daily ritual of ransacking every corner of our small apartment. Pull all of the books off of the elephant bookcase? Check! Take all of the things out from under the bathroom sink? Check! (Don't worry, we removed the saw and the lighter fluid). Destroy the toy corner? Check! Check! Check!

And then there are some very sweet hours, when we get to peek at our sleeping baby... My friend Lauren told me that watching a baby sleep is like baptism, because no matter the messes and tantrums of the day, when babies sleep their sweetness and innocence wash away any feelings of frustration.

So true...

Thursday, March 10, 2011


This week...
I have been working on preparing a song to sing in a quartet with three friends at our Relief Society Birthday party dinner.
And preparing with the ladies on my basketball team for our first tournament game.
And preparing to teach the hula to 8-11 year old girls at a "luau" themed daddy daughter dance in Raleigh that my friend is in charge of.
And preparing for a St. Pattie's day dinner party with friends.

Fun! All fun!

But there is definitely something I could use a little help with: Our final preparation of the week will be for a church youth activity on Sunday night that Marcos and I were asked to be part of. We were given the topic of "dating and friends", and our assignment is to prepare a 20 minute informal discussion or presentation that we will share with groups of youth who will rotate through our station. We have already put our heads together and have come up with pieces of what we will share, but I also want to bring in outside voices. I don't know if you will join me in this effort, but I can't help but feel like this is an important opportunity, and I want to get it right.

So, if you feel like sharing, I'll make it easy and ask you to fill in the following sentence: "When I was a teenager, I wish I knew ____". The youth will be ages 12-18, and we are specifically looking for words of wisdom about friendships and dating relationships.

Thank you for helping us to prepare! I feel restrained by our time limits, but I am hopeful that in 20 minutes we can share a few golden nubbies that our youth will take home with them!

My dysfunctional relationship with Sugar

I am not quite 30 years old, and although I don't have many every-day reminders that I am aging, the one thing that I feel changing is that my body no longer tolerates my sugar addiction. So instead of feeling junk, and then feeling junk again and again and again and again (key word: addiction), I finally said "enough!" and went off sweets. To make my goal reasonable, I went off sweets for two weeks, had a weekend off to enjoy a few treats, and then went back on my two week hiatus. If I could handle moderation I would really love to hit that middle ground, but I know my habits too well to think that moderation is very realistic for me at this point.

The most fascinating thing about this experiment was my weekend of sugar consumption between my two-week no-sweets stints. The first evening of eating sweets again was a beautiful reunion with frozen yogurt and cookes, but it was not worth the price I paid the following morning. My body had totally acclimated to not having to process an overload of sucrose, so when I surprised it with excessive dessert, the next morning I spent trying to survive the most excruciating stomach pains ever. If you were inspired by the first paragraph to try to give your body a break from sweets, by all means, please do so without being scared by this second paragraph! I just give a fair warning that your body is smart and can make adjustments quickly, so go slowly if you are changing back to digestion-unfriendly foods.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Warm enough for bare feet

Last week spring squeaked in a perfect day! Our friends Rhonda and Rex invited us to a picnic to celebrate their sweet little girl Ava's 2nd birthday at the park, and it really would have been a crime not to be outside on a day like that.

Gigi is still a crawler, so it was a bit new for her to move through the outdoor terrain on her hands and knees, but she was just fine once she realized that she could eat the dirt.

I love the photo above. Sorry Rhonda, for cutting your head off, but all of the character's little actions say to me "wow, this is totally what an impromptu shot should look like".

Whoever was holding the bubble wand was like the Pied Piper, with all of the little children around their feet. Rhonda has the most amazing bubble juice: some of the bubbles were so strong that I actually saw a few BOUNCE off of the blanket when they landed. The birthday girl is in the orange shirt!

Thanks Rhonda and Rex for allowing us to tag along! We look forward to many, many more park days, now that we have a little explorer.

Applications out my ears

My work life has grown increasingly stressful over the past few weeks. After plowing through a busy fall season of recruitment at the UNC School of Social Work while my boss Sharon was out on maternity leave, we had a brief moment to catch our breath over the holidays when Sharon returned to work, and then we launched together into the admissions season.

This year our program received 500+ applications, and with the introduction of a University-wide PeopleSoft computer system that was supposed to ease the application process (but has actually made the process a living nightmare), push has definitely come to shove. In mid-January I approached Sharon and basically said, look, we're never going to get through this alive with the hours I'm currently working, so if you can find money in the budget, Marcos has agreed to be flexible so that I can work 30 hours a week instead of 20 for the next two months.

And let me tell you, the change to 30 hours has been really difficult! My in-office days have lengthened quite a bit, and although I was able to negotiate continuing to stay home two days a week with Gigi, I have to work quite a few hours from home on those days. I know that most grown ups work 40 hours a week, so I'm not complaining, but with my responsibility to be with Gigi a few days, and working 30 hours, I often feel very stretched out. I thrive with the challenge, and I love being busy, but there were a few days this past week when I was ready to pull my hair out. Luckily, there are just a few more weeks of powering through the bulk of admissions before we have made all of our decisions, and I can go back down to 20 hours.

My boss Sharon and me at my graduation in 2009

So to capture the work that fills my brain as of late, I've decided to list some things that I have learned from the admissions process. The vast majority of our applicants are very inspiring, but a few of them have reminded me of a few important things:
  1. If you are applying to graduate programs, make sure you consistently use the proper name of the school you are applying to. Writing a letter that starts with, "Dear UNC Admissions Committee: The reason I want to attend Columbia is..." does not impress anyone.
  2. If you are applying to graduate programs, don't have the family for whom you babysat write one of your letters of recommendation. Just don't.
  3. If your life has been eternally altered by a quote you once heard and you have to write about it in your personal statement, please make it a good one. You are one of a billion people whose pivotal moment in life occurred when you came across a quote, so for the love, make it a good one!
  4. If you are applying for graduate school and you feel like a certain program is taking forever to get back to you with their admissions decision (and you don't know that they are being held up by a ferocious new computer system), don't send snotty emails to the assistant to the Director of Admissions. That assistant may be rating your application.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hindsight is 20/20

A day or so after I posted about Gigi's stubborn ear infection, Gigi improved rapidly and we have had the past week or so of our charming, sweet, happy little girl back. Thank you so much for your well-wishes, and prayers and loving thoughts on Gigi's behalf! It made the world of a difference... We were able to wiggle into an appointment last Friday, and tomorrow morning we will go in for Gigi's 15-minute mini-operation to get tubes in her ears.

But this experience with her ear infection and the antibiotics has taught me an important lesson: my first line of fire when it comes to my baby's health needs to be self-education. After I posted about our non-success with the antibiotics our Doctor had prescribed, my aunt and German sister both emailed me independently and asked if I had tried other natural antibiotics used commonly for ear infections (onions and garlic are antibiotics, for example), and it occurred to me that me that I had not done my homework. With all of the other things going on in my life, I had left Gigi's health in the hands of our Doctor, who, although I consider a fairly competent person, is un-versed with any approach to health besides one. I feel confident that we are making the right decision in having tiny microscopic tubes put in her ears to release some of the pressure created by the stagnant liquid on the inside of her eardrum, but the next time health concerns arise, my first approach will be to become a doctor for my baby. Most importantly, I will consider other treatments that may be just as effective, and may be accessible from my very own kitchen.