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January 12, 2011


I'm not sure what I was really expecting this Christmas.... I must admit I was pleasantly surprised that Portugal displayed quite a bit of festive holiday decor in the streets, the malls, and the office where we work.  For a place that I feared would embarrass me with its lack of holiday cheer, Portugal shone and sparkled this year!

For the sake of all those who wonder about daily life in Portugal, I captured a fairly detailed account of our Christmas here, both at the clinic where we spend our days and at the traditional dinner with the family.  The Cerebral Palsy Association of Coimbra hosts a big lunch, both potluck and catered, to celebrate the last work day before Christmas.  They decked their halls with a few trees...

Don't ask why the tree is roped off?  To protect it from small children in wheelchairs, perhaps?

And please don't ask why this one's decorations consist mostly of large bouquets of
spraypainted rose and hydrangea bouquets.  [This is not typical].

Also not typical, but completely adorable, is the tree that the kids created in their art class, or so I assume.  Please note the composition of the shot to include the nativity!

The APCC also hosted a lunch with leitao (little piglet)...

... fruit, breads, and appetizers... all cold, of course... one thing I still haven't gotten used to!  [And no, these are not the only apps... my camera just didn't capture them all!]

...and desserts!

Cerebral Palsy Association Cake
American cookies made by yours truly... and subsequently not touched until after all the Portuguese cakes have been eaten
Portuguese "sweet rice" : rice pudding that only slightly resembles vomit with a dash of cinnamon
We loaded our plates, mine specifically with the most delicious European delight that has touched my lips since I stepped foot on this continent... it's a cheese spread, and it's heavenly.  (super easy recipe to come).

And then we sat at all the children's tables in the cafeteria.  Because that's how we roll. 

Here we are with two of our colleagues that I volunteer with, Graca and Mario.  And no, I don't love them only for their English-speaking abilities... but I cannot lie... because of that I might love them more!

It also should be noted that this party was not the only chance I gave myself to indulge in sweets.  I pretty much have freely and intentionally lived uninhibited in this area since I stepped foot on Portuguese soil.  I mean, I have to get to know the food of this culture, don't I?  How could I possibly do that with rules and restrictions, especially in a place where it's entirely too difficult to count calories???  And so, while my occupational therapist friends Ana Raquel and Marisa are snacking on apples every day, I usually have some sort of cookie, cracker, or the like.  I thought it was necessary to catch Ana Raquel and Marisa with sweets in their hands, since it is a very rare occurrence!

These girls, along with countless others, have been quite diligent in welcoming me with open arms, even though I'm still just a volunteer here.  The girls on Luis's team are so kind and hospitable...

... and our other occupational therapist, Francisco, is just a big teddy bear... even though he won't smile for a photo to save his life!

And of course I couldn't forget to mention that in my very small Christmas box that I brought from the States, I had no hesitancy when packing my candy cane striped Christmas All Stars and light-up Christmas tree socks.  Mario shot this photo and I'm glad he did... I need to have these shoes documented properly!  [If you look closely, you can see the red lights on the trees on my socks!]

And now, why don't you go ahead and take a nap, or perhaps get up and stretch or get yourself a snack?  This is the longest blog entry in the history of the universe and I'd like you to be rested before you head into the second section!  Go ahead... indulge yourself!

Of course, on the first Christmas in which I escaped the wintery north of the United States, Portugal sets records with cold temperatures.  Of course.  Christmas Eve brought us to Pinhel [pronounced "pin-yell", not "pin-hell], Luis Miguel's hometown, to pick up his parents, then a hop, skip, and a jump over to Guarda, the "big city", for dinner with aunt, uncle, and cousins.... and puppies.  Much to the disappointment of my future children (and present husband), I am not really a "dog person".  My mom always said she "wasn't a dog person", and I never really understood it... until I myself acquired the same trait.  These puppies, though, triggered no allergic reaction, were insanely adorable, and provided hours of distraction during a time when I really couldn't communicate much!  I also thought that our favorite American dog, Hula, would enjoy seeing some of our new Portuguese puppy friends!

Whenever anyone asks me about Portugal, wither they are Portuguese or American, they usually ask about the food.  Our family dinner was, (for me), equally delightful and equally strange.  In addition to codfish, they just love octopus here.  When visiting a relative earlier that morning on our way into town, we walked into the kitchen as she was cutting the long legs of the octopus, separating the other parts of his body, and then dipping, rolling, breading and frying them.... and this is not your average restaurant calamari.  These guys still have their tentacles, and they were very much alive just a short time earlier.  (As much as it would add to my story, unfortunately I don't think his aunt actually speared them from the ocean herself ).  Thank God that Luis's family already likes me and I don't feel the need to impress them by eating octopus... because I just don't think I could do it.  Delicacy schmelicacy.

The table did offer me one of my favorite dishes here, bacalhau com natas (codfish with cream).

It's about as close as Portugal gets to a classic Midwestern casserole -- small pieces of codfish, potatoes, cheese, and a delicious cream sauce all baked together.  Comfort food for sure.  Thank God Luis's mom made that, because the octopus stew (or whatever it was) did not look super appealing, with its large pieces of cooked cabbage gracefully floating alongside rice and octopus legs.  See the tentacles??  You can click on the photo to get a bigger version for the full effect.

The Portuguese sure love their cooked cabbage as well!

The dessert table, though, offered many delicious options, including a few traditional Portuguese desserts...
Cake:  calchao de noiva ("Newlywed mattress"... because that's what it looks like)

And nothing says "Christmas" like thinking about newlyweds on their mattress!!!  :)

Rabanadas... which are basically stiff french toast with crunchy edges and cinnamon and sugar on top (almost an elephant ear??), usually served a bit soggy in the middle... not my favorite.

 Additionally there were cavacas, the homemade pastries from Luis's aunt... 

coscureis... [not really sure what these are...??]

 ... Bolo de Rei, "King's cake", a super traditional Portuguese Christmas cake, very similar to American fruitcake.. except the Portuguese actually eat theirs instead of letting it sit in the pantry for years!

...and last, but not least, a post-dinner coffee with few American cookies, which I have learned are not technically "dessert" to be eaten after dinner, but rather a "snack" to be eaten with tea in the afternoon.  (This now explains why they went untouched at the office Christmas lunch!)

Dinner was a bit late considering that a fuse in the oven went out (of course... kind of like the record cold!)... but other than that, fairly uneventful.

Except for grandpa.

Though he's only a distant relative to Luis by a cousins's marriage, I referred to him as 'grandpa' all night because of his genuine laugh, his teasing of the grandkids, and because of his singing.  Do grandpas always sing?  My grandpa was always singing or whistling.  It was quite charming when 'gramps' started singing old traditional songs - cantar desgarrada - with Luis's dad and uncle.  Each guy takes a verse and sings to the others, then the next follows, and so on.  And occasionally they break out the harmonica, as Luis's dad, Jose, is playing here...

It was another one of those times that I felt like I was in a movie.  With a bunch of old men.  Like in the movie "Return To Me". (Anyone?  Anyone?)

As I mentioned, it was quite charming.  Until grandpa's singing continued while we waited for the oven.  Then while everyone was eating.  Then after we ate but some were still "digesting" at the table.  I must say it was quite humorous to watch the faces of those around the table, hoping this would finally be the last refrain of "Jesus... in the clouds... in the sky", but it surely wasn't.  I was expecting a fist to come flying at one point, but all the kind Portuguese kindly waited it out.  From an outsiders perspective, it was completely hilarious, so of course I took photos, which only encouraged him.  Too bad Luis didn't have my camera at the time when he put his face an inch from mine and declared loudly in Portuguese "She is beautiful!  I know a beautiful girl when I see one!!!!". 

Guess you had to be there.

We ended the night by talking to my family via Skype, and Luis and I both thouroughly enjoyed watching our dad's try to talk to each other, so I snapped a quick photo of them!  We are so thankful for this technology, and that Luis's cousin had internet at her house!

One Salewski family tradition, at least since I moved to MN to go to college, has been to take a photo together after the Christmas eve service at church.  Since I wasn't able to be in that photo in Wisconsin this year, I made sure to get one with the Almeidas, who thought it was a little silly at first but completely loved it after I asked my mother-in-law to sit on my father-in-law's lap.  Tee-hee!

I also added an extra ornament that we had to their tree... and of course, put it right next to Jesus... because that's where the Packers belong!

Returning to Pinhel that night, the lights at the city entrance welcomed us and reminded me that even though Christmas wasn't really marked by anything "special", that even though no one dressed up for dinner or attended church, that even though gifts were opened all at once without regard for another, and though Christmas overall seemed to be missing a bit of the sparkle I was used to, the lights still shone bright and really, truly, the only part that matters is Who we honor in our hearts!

January 10, 2011


I was so distracted with "dressing up" that I didn't even think to ask what was in the envelope

And I had a feeling he wanted to keep it a surprise. 

I haven't had many occasions to really get dressed up here in Portugal... and I brought a fair amount of dresses!  I also have bought some fabulous boots on major sale this winter (one of two times per year that sales happen!) so I was itching for a chance to pull one or all of them out!

Of course we were a bit hurried, due to our intense relaxing as of late (it's a really healthy habit, folks), and of course, due to my incessant need to always spend an hour getting ready.  We hit the road and my first hint was given as we drove into Figuera da Foz, a great little city on the ocean, and home of the beach we frequent as often as possible.

[Please forgive the dark, grainy, slightly foggy photo I took from inside the car while moving... ]

I was thinking the surprise might be a show at the casino, which is super swanky and not at all slimy or dirty, as one [American] might assume a casino to be.  When Luis Miguel told me that the reason for our hurry was also because he wasn't exactly sure where the place was, I knew it couldn't be where I first thought.

Rather than guessing, I decided to enjoy the gorgeous sunset over the ocean... again, completely diluted in this terrible picture from a moving car, but you get the idea:  sunset.  ocean.  bliss.

As we drove around the quaint central squares and narrow streets, I was reminded of what a privilege it is to have such an amazing life experience living in another culture!  As we pulled into the drive of the large building that looked like a gallery of some sort, Luis asked me, "So, did you see the sign???"

"Umm... the poster?  Outside?  It looked like a dancer of some sort... a ballet dancer, maybe?"


And as we're walking in, "Really?  The ballet?  My husband brought me to the ballet?  The same husband who is crazy about soccer and loves nothing more than watching athletic events?  He's going to go with me!?!??"  And yes, I did verbalize all these things.  Out loud.

And he confirmed it.  (Amazing!)  Being the wonderful "learner" that he is, as we walked in, past another of the large posters, he had to ask "So, can you read it?  Do you know what it is?"

I see "Lago", which I know is "lake".  The rest is a blur of letters in random order to me.  My eyes catch "Tchaikovsky" and the only ballet I can think of is the legendary Swan Lake.

"Swan Lake?!!?!?" 
"And you're really going with me?!?!" 
"Well, yeah!" 
"You know it's a ballet?" 
"You like the ballet?" 
"Well, I can't say it's my favorite thing... but since it's such a classic show, I thought it would be a good thing to see.  I like doing things like this every once in a while...."  [and the surprises continue]

While we waited for the doors to open (which means we got there in time even though I took an hour to get ready), we browsed a gallery with amazing photos, which I believe was just the cherry on top, since it was unbeknownst even to the event planner himself... an unexpected joy!

Another unexpected surprise were these sculptures that greeted us on our way in... please ignore the fact that they aren't wearing clothes and note their amazingly large feet!!

In the medium sized theater, our seats were great... and clearly I'm happy enough to sport a cheesy grin for the blog...

... and my darling rule-following husband quickly lost his when he realized the serious danger his darling wife could put herself in if she shot a photo during the show, which was clearly not allowed.  See his serious face?

The last sentence out of his mouth... before I shot the photo that was not allowed to be taken inside the theater was... "You're not going to take photos inside the theater, are you?"

Ba hah.

The only two I could sneak in during the show are terribly blurry and almost worthless, and for some reason I had this strange hissing in my ear that sounded something like "Don't let anyone see you take those! You're not supposed to take photos!"... but, it had become apparent that I could not attend Swan Lake and return without a photo of the swans!  So, without further ado... swans:

I'm not even going to post the other one because it's such a terrible photo. Believe me.  My hand was probably shaking due to the whispering in my ear.

I'm thankful for that whispering, though, because he translated the program for me during that parts that may have brought a few questions.  "Was that them getting married?  Does her sparkly headpiece mean she's married?  Did they really even get married?"  Questions like that.  Which are clearly important.  Clearly.

The show was fabulous, complete with Russian dancers and an Ukranian orchestra, which makes it feel all the more "authentic". 

We hurried out, this time also my fault, because my phenomenal Packers were playing their first playoff game, and I wasn't the only one who wanted to watch it!  That, of course, didn't stop us from getting some really delicious ice cream on the way home...

... and if you look really closely, you might be able to see the ocean behind us!  (It's not the sign lit up in red and white... that's the post office).  And yes, in this family, ice cream is always appropriate, regardless of the season.

We finished the night cheering on the Green & Gold, decked out in our Christmas gifts from my brother -- Packers jerseys!  Though I fell asleep in the middle of the 3rd, I think the Pack felt our loyalty, even across the ocean, because they pulled out a fantastic win against the Seahawks... and the Falcons will be just another bird in that lineup next week!    V for victory!

Overall, it was a super fabulous day, complete with a great date night that was worth every minute of waiting!  I'm so thankful for a husband who is becoming more and more thoughtful, and a country to discover more and more each day.  And to think, this is only the beginning... !

January 5, 2011


I don't think it's a surprise to anyone that I completely adore surprises.  As in, really, truly love them.  As in, my life would be incomplete without them.  I appreciate the thoughtfulness that comes with a surprise and the anticipation of something wonderful!  It has just been within the last few years that I have actually stopped denying that my top love language is "gifts".  My poor husband.   I am proud to say that he is learning how to communicate that language though, even in a culture that I would easily describe as "not very gifty".

Recently, as we have been living on one income alone, we (read: I) have been curbing the surprises that cost money and going more for thoughtful and creative that we can provide for free. (i.e. Surprise!  Pumpkin bars waiting when you come home from work!)   Considering my love of surprises, most will probably be able to guess my reply to the question asked by my dear Luis Miguel a few days ago:

"So... are you ok if I spend $50 for a surprise for us this weekend??"

Umm... what???  Of course I would!!!!  You should know that you don't even have to ask!!!!  Instead of knocking him down with that, I thanked him for his encouraging conscient thought about our finances AND his considerate concern for my love language of all things thoughtful.  :)

I am usually not one to peek, scrounge for, or intentionally spoil a surprise, but I have to admit, I did [unintentionally] see Mr. Luis Miguel printing something later that night and couldn't help but ponder what he would be putting inside the envelope he asked me for.  Fortunately, it didn't spoil the surprise, it just enriched it!  Just before I unplugged the lights of the tree that night, I noticed this, placed right at eye level, obviously to serve as a daily reminder of how wonderful a surprise is:

Did you note the cute serifs on the stems of all the letters? [Someone has noticed that I love me a serif font!]

And worry ye not, O Cheeseheads... I have confirmed that this surprise will, in fact, take place on Sunday, but will not, in fact, interfere with the Packers playoff game.  (Thank you, ZON tv cabo for broadcasting!!)  Again, what a thoughtful man!

More to come!

And yes, family, we will be posting photos from our first Portuguese Christmas this week.  :)