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October 29, 2011


I do believe that if asked to describe me, few would say that I’m an “observer”.  Most would probably say that I’m a talker, one who interacts constantly, and, perhaps, one who inadvertently draws undue attention to herself.  Admittedly, it’s all pretty much true. 

Since coming to Portugal, though, it seems that I have slowly shifted to the back of the room, moving out of the spotlight and into the shadows, mostly to observe.  Though stepping into an unfamiliar culture with little preparation has made me feel just a teensy bit inhibited and a not-so-teensy-bit intimidated, I can honestly say that I’ve enjoyed seeing this culture from the ‘outside’.  Or maybe I just like to analyze everything inside and out.  Admittedly, this is true of me as well.

Though over-analyzing may not be my most attractive quality, I must admit it has given me great insight into myself as a person while I observe this foreign world around me. And let me tell you… these insights aren’t always pretty!

As we look back on an entire year living in Portugal -- my first time truly living abroad, as my longest stay had only been 30 days on a university trip -- I could probably write a book on all the observations I've made.  For reasons stated above though, I will start with my observations about Portugal and gently lead into all the scary things I’m learning about myself.  Also, please note that while these may be honest observations of situations that I encounter regularly, my opinions are 100% subjective and these things may not actually be universally true of the entire Portuguese culture or its people. Most phrases could probably begin with "At the non-profit organization where I work..." or "In our condo building..." or "At the stores where we shop..." [End disclaimer].

Então... vamos.

1)      The Portuguese excel at many things, like painting pottery and singing fado music, but I think my favorite characteristic of these wonderful people is their use of name affirmation.  If you are unfamiliar with it, it is the act of using the person’s name that you are speaking with while you are speaking with them.  For instance, “How are you, Kim?” or “Hey Kim, do you know how to say "buchecha" in English?”  If you have ever spent time with me, you are probably aware of my strong affection for name affirmation in its many forms: with friends, customer service representatives, waiters at restaurants, hotel clerks and flight attendants when traveling… the list goes on.  You can only imagine my delight when I realized that the Lord sent me to a country that lives in a constant state of name affirmation...

2)      The Portuguese speak incredibly loudly, and often with so much force that a foreigner may mistake a simple conversation for a heated argument when, in fact, the two speaking are actually discussing if there will be sun or clouds at the beach this weekend.  I laugh at Portuguese people who tell me that Americans speak loudly, which they love to tell us about once per week.   Though I do admit that Americans are often slightly obnoxious and unnecessarily loud in public, they do not compare to the Portuguese when it comes to the amplitude of their speaking!  In this same category is also the fact that they have no problem talking on a cell phone in an office where someone is already on a desk phone, or staying within a group of people while taking a call on a cell phone, meanwhile others in the group are trying to continue the conversation. I sat in on a very professional meeting recently, and at one point, 5 of the 6 people at the table were speaking at the same time.  (Bet you can guess the one who wasn't!)

3)  The Portuguese interrupt a lot while in a conversation.  And by "a lot" I mean in every conversation. Numerous times. At first, I thought this was just because of my limited language skills, for example, as if they felt the need to continue their own conversation since mine was too difficult to understand.  This is not, however, how it works here. Regardless of age, gender, social context, or conversation topic, when one person is talking to another in a group of 3 or more, there is free license to interrupt and it happens regularly.  Drives. Me. Crazy.

4) And they stand really close to you.  When talking to you.  When waiting in line. While approaching a crosswalk. In the grocery store.  Kind of reminds this communication major of case studies of proximity.  Yeesh.

5)      Portuguese women can wield a knife like they were born with it in their hands.  Men can too, but I have noticed the women more.  While cutting fruit at lunch, peeling vegetables at home, cutting appendages off of an octopus to cook, and while cutting or peeling various other things, none use a cutting board – all cutting is done while holding the object being cut in one’s hands.  For the Portuguese, it is completely foreign to think about using a potato peeler to peel a potato/carrot/cucumber or a cutting board to chop a vegetable.  Hold it in your hand, peel it over the sink, cut it over the pot, and you’re done.  After one year, I am still feeling incompetent in this area!

6)      Everything comes in small packages.  Of course I expected this at the fast food places – anything would be smaller than American super sized fries and drinks.  I didn’t, however, expect it for everyday packaging such as milk, flour, and sugar.  I thought my husband might faint the first time I brought home 3 packages of flour in one shopping trip (approximately equal to one 5lb. bag typically found in the States).  He couldn’t imagine in what situation I would ever use that much flour.  Guess he didn’t realize how many cups of flour he’s eating in the cakes and bars I’m always making!  Without an actual American flour bag to compare it to, here’s an approximate size comparison (with a wine bottle behind them to relate to):

L to R:  flour, milk, grated parmesan cheese, ketchup, powdered sugar, and white sugar
For those of us Americans who love Costco and Sam’s Club, buying large quantities of small packages just seems… tedious.  (sigh).  Maybe it’s because here, so many people walk home from the grocery store, so they make packages more manageable to carry?

7)      Along the same lines, and perhaps as a direct result of #4, most Portuguese (and from what I hear, most Europeans) grocery shop approximately 5 times more frequently than Americans. (I just made up that statistic). I have a bit of a skewed opinion of this, since there is a major grocery store just around the corner from the rehab center where we work, and most days that we need something, we can walk over on our lunch breaks.  It is also one of the bigger chain stores, so it not only has groceries, but also clothing, household products, cleaning products, etc.  And it's located in a small mall.  I compare it to a small Wal-Mart considering the variety of items and the competetive prices.  Unfortunately, with the close proximity of this store and with one of the two of us being European, we visit it more times per week than I would prefer, or than what is normal for me… so I haven’t yet infused my husband with my American blood… but some day, I hope that we lessen our number of trips, which will probably increase the numbers in our budget as well!  Here are some pictures of the store, per a specific request from my mother (to make sure we're not living in the sticks or the jungle, perhaps?) :

A shot of just a few of the 20-some registers, taken from the escalator to the 2nd level
Who do you know in this photo?  Surely it's not the man on the sign hanging from the ceiling...
Bountiful Easter candy (I've been working on this blog entry for a WHILE!), but sadly, no jelly beans!
8)      Most grocery stores (both small and large) smell like fish.  This is why:

The Portuguese are known for their codfish, have 1,001 ways to cook it, and receive it from Scandinavian countries that preserve it by packing it in salt.  Using this method of preservation, the raw, yet preserved, fish can sit here in the middle of the produce section for months at a time without spoiling.  You definitely know when it’s fish delivery day, as the smell hits your nose as soon as you open the door.  Even on the other days, there is always a stale fishy smell permeating the entire store.  Think Milwaukee lakefront or the 10,000 Minnesotan lakes that purge themselves of all their dead fish that winter killed when spring arrives. Now don’t you just want to come smell it for yourself?

9)  From what I have observed, the Portuguese dislike/are afraid of/don't know about the self-check aisles in the major supermarkets. On any given day, you can walk up to any open cash registers of the 20-some that exist, and there will be people in line... when they could clearly walk 10 paces to their left or right to arrive at the 4 empty self-check-out lanes.

Please note the serious stink eye that I was receiving from the self-check attendant, and how she has already started moving out from behind her counter to tell me that I am not allowed to take photos here.  Like all the customers in front of me would care??

10)      The banana clip is BACK! 

That, along with various other nostalgic items of days gone by... the fanny pack:

...women’s pleated dress pants:

...Mickey & Minnie, or Donald & Daisy, or Betty Boop, or even the Care Bears on clothing, pajamas, wallets, and jewelry:



... Timberland boots:

This pretty little lady was super excited to model her Timberland boots for her parents
 in front of the Parliament building in Madrid...
...and one of my classmates really prefers hers electric blue...

... but maybe you prefer heels? really big fat 80’s-style bows… on everything from shoes to dresses to shirts to hair clips. 

Pretty sure I also saw a stylin’ mullet the other day… WITH a fanny pack!  What a combo!  Too bad I didn’t get a picture…. Hope my mom won’t get too disappointed by that picture being left out!

11)  Sometimes it's cool to just wear one earring.

For this one, I had to take a photo of the TV, which, if you've ever tried, is almost impossible to do without getting the invisible scrolling ghost bar.  I have yet to see one this big on a real person, however, I have seen many people wear single earrings that are studs and don't hang.

12)  Aside from the grocery stores, most places have ticket machines and anyone waiting needs to take a ticket instead of just getting a line.  This pertains to not only the deli and meat counter, like in the US, but also the pharmacy, post office, etc.

[somehow this photo disappeared]

13)  Lots of dogs and cats run freely in the streets and local areas, even in urban areas, kind of like squirrels and rabbits in the US.

14)  Very few women wear make-up, especially if they are over 30 years of age.  Those that do wear minimal amounts.  Not sure if this is a direct result of the insanely high price of facial make-up, or if the insanely high prices of facial make-up is a result of the small amount of women that are actually purchasing it.

15)  Flies... flies everywhere!  And they bite!  [Gross, I know, but it makes up for their small amount of mosquitos and complete lack of roaches!]

16)  Hydrangeas... hydrangeas everywhere!  This was good news for me, since hydrangeas are my favorite flower!


17) No one brings coffee with them in the morning or juice/Diet Coke with them while running errands anywhere... but coffee breaks are common occurances!  The Portuguese are crazy about their coffee (espresso style only, straight or with sugar, and only the weak among us add a splash of milk).  And then repeat two more times during the day.

18)  It's still cool to go to McDonald's, even as an adult.  And they have a coffee bar inside.  It's also still cool to drink out of juice boxes, even as an adult.  Especially at a picnic or on a road trip.

19)  Children stay up way late, especially in summer.  It is not uncommon to see children running around outside a cafe while their parents sit on the patio to have a coffee or dessert at 11.30 or midnight.

20)  A good majority of Portuguese women frequently have their nails painted.

And... just to make it an uneven 21) There are 7-minute intermissions during movies in the theaters.  Convenient bathroom break?  Yes.  Annoying if you don't have to use the ladies room?  Yes.  Do I always appreciate a potty break?  Yes. (And Portugal just might survive this crisis with all the people refilling sodas and popcorn during the internmission!)

Since this blog entry has become slight long, I will have to save the rest of my notes about Portugal (and about myself!) for “Observations”, round 2.  I wonder how I’m going to add “round 2” to a blog with one-word titles???

August 22, 2011


I'm not sure at which exact moment it occured, but I know that it did.  Somewhere between your cobblestone streets and my 8-lane highways, it happened.


More specifically, the can't-stop-thinking-about-you, perhaps-I-can't-live-without-you love... quickly turning into a maybe-I-would-even-move-across-an-ocean-for-you love.  That kind.

Was it risky?  Of course.  Complicated?  Love sometimes is.  But was it worth it?  All the ocean-crossing and Skype dating?  The time changes and insanely infrequent visits?  Looking back, one year after our married life together began, I can honestly, sincerely, and gratefully say yes.  Sim, certamente.

Reminiscing on our first anniversary makes me think back over five years time to the things that made me say yes... the things that made me think that I absolutely, positively could not live without you.  As I write this, I'm thinking maybe it was when...

... you told me that, upon receiving my first email, you thought I was a Korean man with a Polish heritage... ("Kim" being Asian and "Salewski", Polish)
... you wore the navy blue and white plaid shirt to the first awards dinner banquet that I coordinated... three buttons undone, Euro style, without a t-shirt underneath...
... you showed off your fabulous dancing skills...
... you dared to kiss me for the first time... knowing that miles and cultures and hearts threatened to steal it's significance...
... you waited silently for a few months when I told you "it would never work"...
... you laid a blanket outside on the grass and claimed that, though there were "almost no stars in Atlanta", sleeping under the open sky was a marvelous feeling...
... you patiently pursued me through phone calls and emails, encouraging me to open just a tiny bit of my heart each day...

 Or was it when I surprised you at the first Power Soccer World Cup in Japan, and your ever so kind eyes begged me to give this a try?

Or when, while there, I planned a romantic walk along Tokyo Bay, and after climbing a wall for the best view, you rescued my iPod that I accidentally dropped on the other side of that really high wall, using a coat hanger, plastic straps from a shipped box, and a bottle of water...


Or when...

... after 2 months of dating long distance, you volunteered to come to WI to visit my family when they were unsure of me traveling to Portugal...

... and when you returned the next year, sacrificing another Christmas with your family to begin to get to know mine?

Or when you folded tournament t-shirts instead of watching the World Cup soccer games, clearly out of sheer love... because who would ever choose to fold t-shirts anyway??  Or when you stayed up with me almost all night, taping floors for a Power Soccer tournament you would have to open the doors for only 3 hours later?

Or could it have been when, upon my first trip to Portugal, I decided to surprise you at the airport with a homemade t-shirt that said "I love Portugal"... then realized that the surprise was on me when you showed up with a homemade shirt as well, completely trumping mine with a cartoon caricature of us from another trip??  (Seriously, I think this is when my heart said 'yes'!)

Or perhaps it was later that year, when you gave me a mystery novel in English as a birthday gift... but also bought one for yourself in Portuguese, so we could read it together... knowing I would love that idea?

Or when you bent over backwards to arrange that a very special ring be created for me in the US...

Or when you planned a trip to an old Portuguese flour mill, promising that, in the same way flour is the foundation for bread, and bread is the foundation of food in almost every culture, this remarkable love that we share would be a strong foundation for our future...

Or when you agreed to get married outside in 95 degree heat.  In a suit. And didn't call me crazy.

Or the first day that I woke up next to you and realized I could snuggle with you every morning... forever...

Or when we donned our wedding garb again on the other side of the ocean and danced to traditional Portuguese music in the middle of a large circle of your dearest friends and family, all while they clapped and spun around us...


 Or when we fought over a bathroom trash can... with a lid or without?

Or every night that we went to bed an hour early so we could read for an hour before going to sleep?

Or when you let me paint one wall red?

Or when you made me hot tea in the middle of the night when I couldn't stop coughing?

Or how you consistently adore tolerate when I start new house projects, even though many now cover tabletops and windowsills, still unfinished waiting to be perfected?

Or perhaps it was those times we were traveling and you stopped the car on the side of the road after each and every exclamation of "Ooooooooh!  Can you please pull over so I can shoot a photo of that real quick??"

One year ago today, I was the luckiest girl in the world, being able to call you "husband" for the first time.  I didn't think it would be possible to love you more than I did that day.  But it is.  And I do.  As you reminded me in those early years of dating across an ocean, "I love you more today than I did yesterday, but not as much as I will tomorrow."  And now, looking back on our journey and our first year together, I realize that being in love with you did not arise from a single moment, but in many moments strung together, constantly arriving one after the other, like ocean waves on the shore that we visit so often.  And the best part about those moments that arrive like constantly rolling waves?  From where we stand now, it's impossible to see the opposite shore; these moments will continue to roll in, day after day, year after year.  The opportunities to fall in love again and again will never end.  And for that I am forever grateful.  Thank you for showing me what unconditional love looks like every day.

Happy anniversary, my sweet Love.

August 6, 2011


To be honest, before moving to Portugal, the only food item that I thought I couldn't possibly live without was peanut butter.  Staple of my life, perfect for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and it has protein to boot!  I knew there would be things I would miss, but nothing as much as peanut butter.  Upon arrival, I searched the grocery stores and found that Portugal does, in fact, have American peanut butter... sung to the tune of about $5.75 per small jar... but they have it!  I will, indeed, survive.

What more could I want?  I have peanut butter, pasta, chocolate, Diet Coke (and Pepsi!), ground turkey, fruit… just about the only thing I was missing was Wheat Thins, and I decided I could live without them, so everything was running well grocery-wise.

During our few weeks together preparing for the wedding, Luis and I began to fall in love with Chick-Fil-A’s breakfast burritos...

...and have since invented a few of our own with flour tortillas, eggs, ground beef, and all the fixins, all in the name of saving money, of course!  Before we moved, I would have told you that I could live without flour tortillas (much unlike my Mexican colleagues that I left behind), and if I didn’t eat them for a while, I would be ok.  Shortly after arriving, I proved myself wrong, and craving breakfast burritos for dinner, I headed to the grocery store.  Not surprisingly, they were ridiculously expensive too… about $5.00 for an 8-pack of regular white, flour tortillas.  No high-fives occurred that day as I tried to explain to my Portuguese husband why it was necessary to spend $5.00 on tortillas, which he clearly viewed as only a international luxury in a place like Portugal. So we passed.  I have plenty of other things that I “need” here and I was not about to die on that mountain.

Those who know me well might know of my love for finding a bargain, and specifically my penny pinching skills when it comes to saving money for travel, especially now. I grew up shopping sale racks and discount stores, and I grew to love always being able to buy what I wanted (well… almost) because I could almost always find a slightly cheaper alternative that was affordable. 

What some may not know about me, though, though, is that I have met my match through marriage!  I haven’t known anyone more concerned about saving money than my dear husband Luis Miguel.  We are quite a team when it comes to bargain shopping, especially when there is our version of Aldi (a discount German grocery mini-mart) right across the street from our condo!  Lidl (correctly pronounced “LEED-l”, as explained by one of our German volunteers at the Rehab Center last week) is our go-to place when it comes to any groceries that we need last minute.  (To experience it for yourself, check out the British site in English here!)  Here is a shot of the "little Lidl" from the entrance...

Those who have shopped at Aldi in Wisconsin and Georgia also know that they have a small promo aisle in the middle of the store that has everything from socks to bookshelves to ice cream makers… and Lidl has the same!  We are constantly getting crazy deals on things like shower doors, fun multi-packs of markers, wrapping paper and ribbons, and I even got swim shoes super cheap for our rafting trip we just took down the Mondego river.  We look forward to the treasures we will find each week… and Luis is desperately waiting for that ice cream maker to return!

So… peanut butter… tortillas… ice cream makers… you got it… ALL available at LIDL!  We were absolutely thrilled some time around November when we discovered that Lidl has international food weeks every two months or so, featuring particular foods from specific countries.  We have since experienced Italian week, French week, and, much to my delight, Mexican week!  There, we found an 8-pack of tortillas for 1€59, about $2.25.   

I am not lying when I say that we bought 12 packages… 8 normal, 2 garlic, and 2 tomato!  We froze them and used them regularly, starting a tradition of breakfast burritos for brunch on Saturday morning.  Additionally, Mexican week had corn tortilla chips, which didn’t care to disguise themselves and just looked like regular Doritos (which, when combining a few of our small packages here to equal the quantity of an American-sized bag, would be about $4.50) so we stocked up on those too, in addition to taco sauce and a jar of tomato salsa, which ended up not being as good as from scratch, as I expected.  

They also had some crazy things like prickly pear juice, which I thought only existed in the movies, but I guess not!

Mexican week was then shortly followed by… you guessed it… American week!  They had things like Chips Ahoy style chocolate chip cookies, chips called “Texas Style Chili”...

...pre-made frozen hamburgers, ice cream sundaes, popcorn shrimp, chicken nuggets...

and ranch and honey mustard salad dressings.  The real surprise, though, were super large bottles of what was called “Hamburger Sauce”, which looked and smelled like Thousand Island dressing… not to be confused with the actual smaller bottle of “1000 Islands” dressing.  Along with the hamburger sauce in bottles larger than I’ve ever seen in Europe, was “Ketchup” with the specific flavor Barbeque, complete with the tagline "Made from an American recipe with a typical smoky flavor". This, folks, is the real deal!  And last but not least, a monster bottle of mayonnaise. Available in Portugal on a regular basis in any store you walk into?  Yes.  Available in jumbo size?  No.  

Other “classically American” things were dry pancake mix (in a bottle where you can just add water and shake), and Crunchy Clusters, a granola type of cereal with the German name Knusper-Müesli , complete with a picture of the Canadian flag as well (click on the picture and check out the front of the maple syrup bottle), to represent the authentic maple syrup taste. Go figure. 

Of course we couldn’t forget microwave popcorn, which IS available in large chain Portuguese grocery stores, in case you’re wondering, and some unidentifiable chips that were labeled with a nacho cheese flavor.  Awesome.

This is the second time in a year that I have experienced American week, and this one brought with it the treat of all treats… jelly beans!   

 My dear cousin Krista sent me some authentic American jelly beans around Easter this year after I searched store after store to no avail… and now, to find them right outside my front door!  The thrill!  I didn’t think it could get much better than this until I put one in my mouth and found that they weren’t mock Brach’s… they were mock Jelly Bellies!!!  I had no words… but I didn’t need many, because I was so busy chewing!  They had me sold when the very patriotic packaging said “13 Fabulous Flavors”, but then to find that I enjoyed all of them except for one… well, let’s just say I had a little party for myself, finished the bag in two days, and will be going back tonight for more!  (Also of note is that I enjoyed the maple syrup cinnamony granola for breakfast twice this week already, and will be buying more of that as well.)  Here you can really see how giddy I am about my jelly beans... and you can see most of the products in the background too.  Can you find the jumbo bottles of sauce? :)

Lidl carries a few of these American products regularly... usually the cookies (with a ridiculous markup in price), and also peanuts, which we usually only eat while watching soccer.  Check out how much more festive I am watching soccer in Europe! (Note: all Europeans bring their team's scarf to the game, no matter what the weather!)  Força Benfica!  (Also worth knowing is that this photo was taken in fall, before I was aware of "American week" at Lidl, so the super-squinty-eyed smile was brought on by finding that my package of peanuts had the Statue of Liberty on it).

Other notable purchases from Lidl also include my folding shower doors…

(Please note the fabulous 50 cent mirror that I have hanging there on the middle panel, on the slightest, most perfect angle so that I can see the back of my stacked hairstyle in the mirror in the morning when I am trying to dry it with a roundbrush.  Brilliant?  Yes, I think so too).

Also, my favorite set of marker pens, which come in handy various times per week when correcting my Portuguese homework… 

… and this supersweetawesome expandable cookie sheet for our teeny little oven.  See the line near the left side?  It expands with a simple pull. Love it.

I know it’s not really appropriate to end this post without something extremely absurd (as I aim for this in all of my posts), so here you go:

That’s right, it’s a Desperate Housewives BRAND of appliances, available only in the promo aisle of Lidl.  Seriously?  Seriously.  Hair dryers, curling irons, and flat irons.  It is notable that these did not, in fact, show up during American week, but near Christmas time, with other gift-able promotional items like fruit baskets with wine and paint sets for kids.  Are these even available in the States?  Dare I say they marketed these just for Europe??  But if so, why would the title be in English when it’s not in English on our cable menu here?  And completely aside from that, what crazy person would choose to buy this product just because it says Desperate Housewives?  It wasn’t even cheap!!!! I digress.

And there you go.  An entire post about a small discount grocery store near and dear to my heart.  Why this and not, say, photos of some trip we took to a beautiful region of this fine country?  Well, mostly because I shoot so many photos that it takes me forever to decide which ones to use in a blog. Secondly, though, it's because living here isn't as "glamorous" as some people may think, and frankly, this little store is a normal part of our every day lives.  And isn't that was this blog is for, anyway?  Documenting the every day?  Yes, I will get better at posting about our travels.  For the past few days, though, these jelly beans have made me pretty darn content.  And that's worth writing about, right?  Right.  The End.