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January 29, 2012

week 4.

Sunday, January 22nd 
The problem with buying 1.99€ IKEA and Glade candles is that they burn in a skinny little tunnel down to the end of the wick, and you feel like you only got to use the candle for half of it's life, since there is so much lovely-smelling wax leftover, but nothing to burn it with!  After searching all summer for some wick string here and finding nothing, I decided to just bring some back from the US.  Now, 3 months later, I finally melted some candles down to make new ones! Exciting Sunday afternoon, I know... but at least our house smelled amazing!

Monday, January 23rd
With sunshine and temperatures in the mid-60's, Luis and I couldn't resist taking a walk in the park across the street from our Center during our lunch break.  We ran into an older man who was taking his 2-month-old puppy for a walk... without a leash!  I couldn't believe it!  I'm not much of a dog-person, but I can not resist a puppy!  I asked the man if we could take a photo with Kiko, and though he was a bit timid at first, he warmed up to us quickly! :)

Tuesday, January 24th
Though I may sometimes "complain" that my husband is only creative when it comes to the way that he moves the soccer ball around the field, I have to admit that he surprises me every once in a while with something like this!  He actually brought me this flower after a soccer game last week, and not only is it the biggest and most beautiful gerbera daisy I have ever seen, but it is STILL living, 10 days later!  I took this photo 6 days after he bought it, and it still looks about the same!

Wednesday, January 25th
If you have ever talked in-depth with me about the Portuguese people, you have probably heard me speak of how honest they are... both in the "not-fake-but-really-sincere" sense, and also in the "say exactly what they are thinking" sense.  As in "You are looking skinny lately!", or the opposite truth, "You are looking a little fatter than last time I saw you!".  This, of course, bringing a little tender pat on the cheek along with it. This photo of the day would be one example of the latter.  Taken from the Portuguese exercise book that I am studying in my language classes right now, you can see on number 4 that telling someone they are fat is not an uncommon thing to hear at all!  "É verdade que estas mais gordo." translates to "It's true that you are more fat."  Sincere, eh?

Thursday, January 26th
I would like to congratulate my dear friend Marisa for making it into the photo-of-the-day two weeks in a row!  We hit up the twice-a-year sales at the mall this night, and though we tried on some really cute blazers which I wanted to take a photo of, we both forgot and ended up snapping one of our my buyers remorse cleverly hidden by our smiles.  This photo was just to show that yes, we still had our tree up on January 26th! A few of our friends that we have been trying to plan dinners with kept mentioning that they wanted to see our "American" tree, but with all but one of them, the dates never worked out, so down she came.  At least Marisa got to see it!

Friday, January 27th
This week all the staff at our Center were given the opportunity to attend a conference of the Federation of Cerebral Palsy Associations in Portugal.  Considering that we left at 7 am and didn't get home until 7 pm, and all but one of the presentations were in Portuguese, I think this should be a valid excuse for being allowed to skip my Portuguese homework this week.  8 hours of listening to speakers (of varying clarities of speech!) should at least get me out of one lesson, right Professora??

Saturday, January 28th
These beautiful eyes and adorable curls belong to Sofia, the daughter of one of Luis's best friends, José, and his wife, who both work at APCC with us.  In Portugal, the role of godparents are very important, as they have a strong presence in a child's life, almost like an immediate family member, as opposed to an "emergency care person" in case something happens to the child's parents, as this role is often seen in the US.  We were very honored when Sofia's parents asked Luis to be Sofia's godfather two years ago, and we loved celebrating her second birthday today!  (Note: those toys in her hand are beaters to an electric mixer that we bought her for her new play kitchen... Hoping she will love baking and become a woman after my own heart!)

January 21, 2012

week 3

Sunday, January 15th
Our favorite weekend brunch... breakfast burritos and homemade orange juice (mine mixed with sparkling water, of course!).  Isn't it always more fun to drink your homemade juice in champagne flutes??

Monday, January 16th
If you've read any other entries in my blog, you already know that I love a good bargain, but they are often hard to find in Portugal.  The only place that regularly has great deals is our little German grocery store, Lidl.  We love them and shop there weekly.  But just to further prove that even at our favorite place, the discounts are occasionally hard to come by... This sign says "Cheaper!", and if you read the small price to left of the bigger one, you can see how much.  FOUR CENTS.  You can see it was 5.99 and now it's 5.95. Not only that, it was 4 cents of 6.00€, which is a measely 0.6%. (We're talking less than 1% discount, friends). In my opinion, it probably cost more than 4 cents to print that big orange sign!  And now you know why it's so hard to save money in Portugal.

Tuesday, January 17th
Today we had dinner to celebrate a new apartment that our dear friend and colleague, Marisa, just moved into.  Check out those amazing Portuguese tiles on the wall!  Marisa is an Occupational Therapist with Luis at the APCC, and was one of my first Portuguese friends, as we met at the Power Soccer World Cup in Japan in 2007.  She is one of the kindest people I know, we love spending time with her, and we're so glad that she now lives 15 minutes closer to us!

Wednesday, January 18th
It was so cold all day, and specifically in our house when we got home, that I felt the need to pull out the fuzzy socks.  So sad that our Packers won't be playing the SuperBowl this year, but since our love for them never fails, I'm still wearing the socks to support the greatest football team ever!

Thursday, January 19th
Today at the APCC (yes, I know I need to write a blog specifically about our work... it's coming!), we celebrated receiving a certification of quality which puts our organization on a high level in the community, and in Portugal as a whole.  The entire staff was invited to the small ceremony where our president received the certificate, and after, we celebrated with a bit of champagne, natural orange juice, and sweet and salty snacks created at the biological farm associated with our Center.  A few of my colleagues had never heard of "mimosas" -- champagne mixed with fresh orange juice -- and so I felt the need to introduce them!  They liked it a lot more than their faces show in this photo, I promise.

Friday, January 20th
After living here for over a year, I have come to find that my hairstyle is not very common, which makes finding a hairsylist to cut this precious hair pretty difficult.  For those of you who love your stylist (as I did with my dear Richie in Atlanta), think about how stressful it would be to switch to a new one... much less a new one that doesn't speak your native language! I found a great stylist just after we moved, and then, of course, he decided to open a salon in London 3 months later.  Didn't want to pay as much as his replacement was asking, so on to #2, who was perfect the first time and made me cry the second, so I tried the third this past week.  It wasn't exactly what I wanted, but it was close, so she said I could come back a few days after it "settled" and she would thin out or fix up anything I wanted.  True to her promise, she did so yesterday.  Before seeing the photo, you should probably know that the name of the salon is "Radical", as was her choice in clothing, hoisery, and footwear yesterday:

Saturday, January 21st
With a 60º day today full of sunshine, we decided to take a walk around our neighborhood after our delicious [from scratch] pancake and [homemade] syrup lunch (which ALMOST made the one-per-day photo today). Since I assume not many Americans know what Portuguese houses look like, I decided to include a house that I really love, right around the corner from our condo building.  A lot of Portuguese houses are built into huge buildings or connected to other walls/properties, making them not look like stand-alone houses, but these types are fairly new, probably built in the last 15 years.  I love the stained glass window in the front of this one, and the balcony on the other side!

January 15, 2012

week 2.

Sunday, January 8th
After finding out that more people were out of town for NYE weekend than we thought, and after our condo quarterly meeting being rescheduled 3 times, we are finally hoping to be able to organize a [Christmas] cookie "open house" for our neighbors this week!  Here are some of the starters that I'm trying to make one day ahead of time... (note: do not make the Nutella cookie recipe from Pinterest that only has 4 ingredients. 4-ingredient cookies are not delicious).

Monday, January 9th
I'm also making wassail for aforementioned "cookie open house", and I am definitely adding my own orange juice made with a juicer that Luis Miguel already owned (it's not uncommon for people to make their own juice 'au naturale' here). (No, that wasn't Portuguese, just using a random different language like Americans do to sound more intelligent).  Thankfully, we are really blessed with free fruit, veggies, and eggs on a regular basis, given to us by Antonio, one of our Powerchair Football athletes, whose parents have a garden on a large piece of land and raise chickens as well.  Sounds like another reason for baking, eh?

Tuesday, January 10th
I think it's safe to say the cookie "open house" was a success!  5 of 7 families in our building stopped by, loved the cookies, and most stayed chatting for about 2 and a half hours!  Most also commented that it was a great idea to start having more community in our building.  It was a surprise to me, as well, that each family brought a little something for us... some eggs from a grandmother who raises chickens, flowers for me and wine for Luis, and 2 boxes of chocolates!  I have learned that when you invite Portuguese people over for dinner, they always bring a small gift, but I really didn't think for something so casual, that they would still be so generous!  After asking around this week, I have now learned that it doesn't really matter what the occasion... if a Portuguese person comes to your house, they will bring you a treat! The mantle was the only place I could put my camera to get all of us with a timer, so the photo is a bit far away, but check out the head of curls and the pajamas and robe on the little guys in the front!

Wednesday, January 11th
Haven't seen a beautiful sunset in awhile, considering we've been working later and since it gets dark so early, so this was a welcome surprise this week!

Thursday, January 12th
I remember shooting a photo of this tree when it was red and green in autumn, but never really noticed it in winter until the other day when Luis pointed out how beautiful the shape is, even without leaves!

Friday, January 13th
I don't have words to express how much I love this soccer team!  I hadn't seen them together since November since we're in a bit of an off-season, and we had a fun morning of reuniting and laughing on Friday (even if they don't look like it)!

Saturday, January 14th
After also being away from our "couple friends" (as in, friends who are couples, not that we only have two friends here) for a few months, we reunited again for dinner... and some unexpected and spontaneous Texas line dancing!  Pretty impressive shot, considering the photographer is only 7, (and considering my camera was set to shoot at night, hence the crazy amount of grain!)

January 8, 2012


I wanted to start 2012 on a good note, blogging more, updating entires from all of our trips we've taken in Portugal and Spain, things I've been learning, etc.  I hope all of you know these have always been my intentions.  Yet being a perfectionist and one who takes a substantial amount of photos (yet doesn't love digital editing), I sometimes get hung up on which to choose, how to write it "just so" to make it funny, yet truthful... and the list goes on.  I'm a "pleaser". And I know I shouldn't be.  (As the year progresses, hopefully I can be working on that... :) )

Speaking of photos, I always loved the photo-a-day projects but never thought I could follow through daily to write a blog post  e v e r y  day.  Until now.  Something in me clicked and wants to do it, so considering it's the first week of the year, what better time is there to start?  Inspired by my friend Cristi, another American living here in Coimbra with us, I will take one photo per day and post 7 photos in one blog at the end of the week.  We'll see how they turn out! I really hope it will give all of our friends and family across the ocean a small way to be a part of our daily lives, and what a great memory it will be at the end of the year!  And without further adieu... here's Week 1 of 2012!


Sunday, January 1
Ringing in the New Year at Fábrica, the hot spot in the tiny town of Pinhel, Portugal, where Luis Miguel grew up!

Monday, January 2
Staying up way late to cheer on the Badgers in the Rose Bowl!  On Wisconsin!

Tuesday, January 3rd
Just after we moved to Portugal, and before I had a job, I volunteered a bit at the cerebral palsy rehab center where Luis is an Occupational Therapist.  His team of OTs graciously let me use a bit of their office space when I needed to kill some time between projects, and it was a great experience for me, getting to see what Luis does every day!  One day he introduced me to one of his clients, who just so happened to be playing with this toy.  I couldn't believe I was seeing it again after 25 years, because it was one of my favorites as a little kid!  I always meant to take a photo of it and send it to my parents, knowing they would appreciate it.  Who would have thought that years later, my dad would uncover it in a corner of the basement and then spend an hour fixing it up?!?!  Since my mom so graciously sent me a photo of him playing with it after he fixed it, I had to include that one as well.  :)

Wednesday, January 4th
Across the street from the rehabilitation center where we work is a large Christmas tree made of strings of Christmas lights, and there has been a sign "Visit the Nativity" for weeks.  Always forgetting to stop in, I was left wondering if this was a live person/animal nativity, a small table top one, or a big plastic illuminated yard decoration.  We arrived to see that was, in fact, a small room along the outside of the fire station (and sponsored by them, I believe) with a very elaborate nativity set.  Behind it was a 20x20 ft. "town", with various moving parts like water being brought out of a well, a sun and moon which changed all the lighting from day to night, etc.  Since taking a photo of everything made me step way back and lose detail, I decided to include one detail that was outside the Nativity, but still clearly an important part.  And note, this is in the parking lot right outside of our office, which you can see (the blue and white building) in the background!

Thursday, January 5th
I love foggy mornings, especially driving from the 'burbs into the city, where we usually can visibly see the fog resting in the valleys between the hillsides.  This morning was especially spectacular, considering the sun peeking through to light the city while the fog still settled behind it...

 Friday, January 6th
As I have mentioned in previous blogs, it is rare to find items on clearance here in Portugal, but on a routine lunch hour grocery shopping trip, I found these cute ceramic plates and small bowls in our same "is-it-charcoal-grey-or-is-it-brown" color scheme... and for 50 cents each!  Portugal is known for its ceramics, and though these are the cheap grocery store trademark, I still like them a lot!  Now we just need to invite more friends over so I can use them!

Saturday, January 7th
"How to make your wife happy", lesson #22:

[Wednesday]  "Hey Love... I heard it's going to be relatively warm, completely sunny, and not at all windy on Saturday... do you want to go to the beach and have a picnic lunch?"

This really happened, and is just one more reason that I love my life. (The husband AND the beach included :) )  We went to the beach the first weekend in January, and even took off our shoes and socks for about 2 hours!  It was beautiful, relaxing, and reminded us again of how blessed we are to live in such a beautiful place!

January 3, 2012


It's been way too long since I've written.  I know this.  And I apologize.  I'm not very good at blogging "on time".  I know.  I'm behind.  I'm constantly thinking of it, but not consistently writing on it.  Thank you to all of you who have dutifully follwed, expecting it to get better as this past year progressed.  The only thing I can say is... Maybe 2012?  Here's hoping!

Without letting any more time get away from me, here's a snapshot of our Christmas!

On our mission to see the world (which has started slowly this past year but hopefully will gain a little momentum soon!), we have started to collect a small memento from each city that can either hang on the Christmas tree or somehow be turned into an ornament.  I have this "thing" with wanting to bring back memories, in decorative form, from every place we visit.  I like to show others the special places we've been.  I like to decorate.  I also like to collect things.  Now, this would not be a problem if 1) we had a huge house with lots of empty shelves and dressers to display things, or 2) I wasn't married to a minimalist.  Unfortunately, our home is not very big, and I am married to a minimalist, so to avoid having a lot of little chachkis causing our small little home to feel more full than it should (and to avoid forthcoming fights over said number of chachkis in the house), we decided that we would collect mementos that could be displayed on our Christmas tree, and pulling them out each year would allow us to reflect on the past year and all the places we had been.

Without further ado, here are the newest members of our Christmas tree's family:

Castanholas... the small wooden "clackers" that Spanish flamenco dancers "clack" together in their hands while they dance, a souvenir from a trip to Madrid with a few couples from Luis's soccer team:

"A memory from Avila", (though I hate how this is printed on there, I loved the design), a small town in Spain that looks like a castle in itself (hence the castle-like walls on the ornament):

A fuzzy leather mitten from the highest mountain in the chilly northeast of Portugal, Serra de Estrela (Star Mountain):

A sparkly snowflake with a slightly antique feel from Paris, where we had only one afternoon to shop (since we were there for the Power Soccer World Cup!), but even in one afternoon, I accomplished my mission!  Much to my husband's dismay, my creative side didn't allow me to put a kitchy Eiffel Tower on the tree... wouldn't you agree that my lovely snowflake just looks so very Parisian??

We also collected a wine barrel from the Douro region of Portugal, where we took a riverboat cruise for our 1st wedding anniversary.  Unfortunately  in all of our Christmas packing and unpacking and decorating, during which we were also trying to find a screw or hook of some sort to hang it, we misplaced the barrel and he didn't end up on our tree this year.  I do, however, have a photo from the trip, so hopefully that will do!  (I know, I know... I need to blog about that!)

Thankfully the country that I moved to has random national holidays every once in a while that give us some downtime, so on the last one, we decided to drive to Spain to visit the eclectic city of Toledo!  The door to our cute, reasonably-priced hotel (which used to be a palace of some sort) opened into the plaza of the famous cathedral there, which is one of the main tourist attractions!  So, of course, we had to bring back one of them for our tree as well.  (Note: many of our ornaments are magnets that I have transformed with sparkly thread)  :)

There were also a few that were not trip-related, but definitely worth mentioning!  This is one of my all-time favorites, given to me as a Christmas present by my friend Jessica last year, but due to crazy post offices, huge snow delays, and the ocean between us, it arrived after my Christmas blog had been written.  I did, however, treasure it, and it was such a treat to hang it up again this year!  It is a hand-made ceramic ornament from Paloma's Nest that is a perfect replica of the country of Portugal, with a small heart stamped into the  area right where we live - Coimbra!  So thoughtful and definitely a special ornament that will always remind us of our first Christmas together in Europe!

While visiting our family in the US this summer, we made a stop in Atlanta as well, where I swung by our new friends Jacqui and Stephen's house, where all of my "couldn't bear to sell it but wasn't sure it was worth packing and bringing to Europe" things are graciously being stored free of charge.  This couple has not only been a huge financial blessing to us, but have also become our friends!  We are so thankful for the burden they have lifted in our lives and the way that they remember us from afar, especially by sending mail.  Three cheers for someone else joining my mission to revive the art of the handwritten letter!

That story was included not only to give a virtual high five to our friends, but also to note that I discovered a small bag of mementos that I have saved from our trip to Japan in 2007, where I was there to photograph the inaugural Power Soccer World Cup and Luis was there as the coach of the Portuguese team.  As you may have noted last year,  I have one special ornament that I have been hanging up since that trip which always reminds me of our time there. I had completely forgotten that I had a few other things saved, so it was a nice little surprise to find while I was going through a box looking for a tablecloth!  Inside that bag was this little lady, who I couldn't help but bring back and put on our tree this year.  Also, that's not a price tag (though since I don't know how to read Japanese, it very well could be!), but since the lettering is so pretty, I thought it added a little to the whole package, so I left it on!

Along that same line, while we were in Paris for the World Cup I mentioned above, we were reminded of how thoughtful the Japanese are, and how they love to give little gifts and tokens to signify friendship.  At the closing banquet of the event, they all had small pouches of individually wrapped gifts to give away to the participants there.  One such token was a small pair of sandals/slippers, which are a big part of the Japanese culture.  They are super small, maybe the size of a thumb-nail, and too cute to not add to the tree!

True to her gift-loving form and thoughtfulness year-round, my mom still sends a St. Nick package every year, always including a few new ornaments to add some life to our tree.  To save you a bit of length on this entry, I'm just including my favorite... a really cute suitcase, complete with a map and travel itinerary!

My grandma also sent a cute little ornament with our Christmas present this year, which made me a little nostalgic for the snow of my hometown!

We got a few more from my mom, and since we are trying to make our tree a place for ornaments that really have a story behind them, I try to find other places in the house that ornaments can find a seasonal home.  This year it was "my" bathroom -- we are fortunate enough to have two, and since the master is about twice as small as the guest, I generously "gave" my sweet husband the one closer to the bed and oh-so-sacrificially accepted the larger bathroom.  With the tub.  I know. Poor me.  Since quite a few of the "extras" were white and/or clear, sparkly, etc, they all found a home together on the mirror above the vanity!

(Have you ever tried to take a photo in front of the mirror in your bathroom?  Somehow, no matter how many camera settings you change, it always looks dingy... and yes, those are salmon-colored, hand-painted x's all around the mirror and the perimeter of the room.  Yeah.)

I also added a free print that I found on my new favorite site, (Seriously, go now.  Well, finish reading here.  Then go.) I had the frame and black paper, so it was just fitting it in the frame and sticking it on a shelf... perfect!

Additionally, we decorated the mantle, because... isn't that what mantles are for?  Anyone who has never had one has always dreamed about decorating one... that's just how it is.  And now, I must admit, I broke our deal to not buy anything new for Chrsitmas decor this year, and you can see the evidence standing tall, holding some sparkly silver and gold ornaments from that stash I mentioned above.  And at 5.99 a pop, I can't say that they broke the bank... but I can say they almost broke down my creative side.  I was so eager to fill them, as I've always wanted to have something like it, but when I realized that there was only one size, my first thought was of immediate doom:  They will have to be symmetrical.  I usually don't really like symmetry, much to my former engineer roommates' dismay, but I just had to do it this year.  Something about this photo will probably calm their spirits, so consider it done, my symmetry-loving friends!

If you are wondering, yes, I do know that I need to blog about our living room decor updates as well.  Consider it added to the list. (And no, the red isn't really like a fire engine, but after quite a few attempts to get the right color in the camera while shooting at night, as I always forgot during daylight, I decided to just post it already). I wish I could say that I found the mirror at an antiques sale and that it was naturally distressed due to wear and tear, but in reality, I found it at a home decor store and it was marked down due to some random reason.  I thought it might be because of a large gouge out of the wood on one of the points, so I (obviously) asked if it could be discounted more, especially because from the gouge, it could be seen that it wasn't wood, but a fake sort of carboardy wanna-be wood, at least on the the little flowery points.  I was denied the discount, so we decided to sleep on it, since I already had an idea for that space with something we already owned.  We went back the next night, and... wouldn't ya know... the little frayed edge that was scuffed had been PAINTED... and with a slightly different color white!  Obviously in less than 24 hours, the salesgirl spoke with someone up top, who decided that giving discounts was just not an option, so they better cover their mistakes.  Just thought it was worth sharing.  I was super annoyed, but I bought it anyway, and haven't regretted it since! (Isn't it pretty?)

On to the point of the matter... symmetrical mantle for the first time in my life: check.  Now the only thing that was missing was the nativity scene!  I never really owned one of my own other than one I had as a child, and I had been looking for one for quite a few years, but never found one that I thought justified the always-expensive price.  Finally, as we were visiting Toledo, Spain, we walked through a little outdoor handicraft fair (fairs are my jam!) and couldn't resist checking out a small shop of hand-crafted nativities!  We both loved this one and loved even more that it was supporting an artist instead of a big store selling mass-productions.  You can see in the photo above that we put it in the center of the mantle more "fit together", but here's a better shot of the details like the old city of Jerusalem that was carved into the bases:

We love it, and not only was it a great memory of our trip, but also a nice reminder of the reason we were celebrating!

As I may have mentioned in an earlier blog, we have made some great American friends here in Coimbra, missionaries who have been here one year longer than I have and have done some great work building community among students and families here.  Luis's parents are always asking to meet them, but it hasn't ever worked out until now, when they suggested that they (well, LuLu, Luis's mom) would cook for us if we hosted Christmas here at our house, and we could "invite the Americans over"!  We thought it was a fabulous idea, and it turned out to be a wonderful night of fellowship!

The event planner inside of me obviously loves a pretty table...

There aren't many sales in Portugal, just two per year: one after the summer holiday, and one after Christmas. There are rarely Christmas decorations that go on sale, but I happened to snag a big box of various silver ball ornaments after Christmas last year, which was a lovely little surprise for me when we unpacked the Christmas decor this year.... hello centerpiece and mantle decor!

The napkin rings are made of tiny little bells, which actually jingle when you shake them, which just makes everything seem a little more Christmas-y!

Also, with our goal to use the decorations we had and not buy anything more this year, I decided to use 6 more treasures that I happened to find in a storage box in Atlanta as place card holders.  These sparkly snowflakes were ornaments that have bells in the middle, so there is a small cutout space that allow the bell to move around.... or, better said, a space that holds place cards!  We skipped putting them on the tree and saved them for the table instead.  I think my hubs was a little impatient that they didn't have a home, or more that they were sitting on the living room dinner table for 3 weeks, but giving them this space was definitely worth the wait!  I had to make some homemade Modge Podge to do a little surgery on them before dinner, as they got sparkles e v e r y w h e r e, but even after they dried they still looked sparkly and beautiful!

For some reason (I'm thinking it was the fabulous time everyone had!), neither Cristi or I got a photo of the food table with entrees, but here is a shot of the appetizers that Luis's mom and aunt made...

The big elephant-ear looking things in the back left are coscureis, which are, as my husband described when as I asked, "It's like bread.  Then it's fried."  This, though, is not a super accurate description, considering that the french toast-ish things directly to the right of the coscureis are also pieces of bread, also fried, called fritas... which (surprise!) is the Portuguese adjective for anything fried.  They are made just like french toast, but more crispy, as the cinnamon and sugar are added at the end, and they are served at room temperature.  Rotating clockwise, we have a bread-cake with chocolate swirl inside, and lots of cold, friend fish cakes and octupus, which are traditional Christmas appetizers.  To finish, we have queijo da serra, which is translated "mountain cheese", that is from the mountainous area near where Luis grew up.  It is "ripened" until it is spreadable, at which point you cut a circle out of the "skin" on the top and eat it on mini cruton-style crunchy "tosta" crackers.  Super strong, but really delish!  To finish up, the large puffy pastries with the white frosting are cavacas, and are super airy, almost hollow in the middle.  Luis's aunt and uncle make them as part of their business, which is providing all the pastries for the cafe inside the hospital in Guarda, the big city outside of Pinhel.  One thing you can always count on at an Almeida family gathering is cavacas!

Though it was a little strange to speak Portuguese all night with Americans, we had a great time!  Lily and Henry taught Luis how to make "s'mores" over the fire in our fireplace... 

When asked to describe his first experience with a s'more, Luis Miguel replied, "Um... sweet?"  Not sure he was super impressed with our American treat...

Speaking of being impressed, I really think Calvin was when Luis's dad whipped out some coins and started spinning them on the floor!  Love how entranced both he and Henry were, and how Cal started laughing so hard!

And I really couldn't resist shooting a photo of this, as we turned on some cartoons for them near the end of the night...

Precious!  Even more so when he realized I was taking photos and started hamming it up for the camera!

This is his most recent expression, which his family has labeled the "pirate face"!

And one more shot full of smiles... Cristi, Lily, and her new baby doll.  I think if kids as cute as these three were mine, I might have a little trouble disciplining them... adorable!  I also appreciate how Luis and Henry are snuggling on the couch, watching Wipeout.  (After all, what else would boys bond over at Christmas?)

To cap off the evening, I attempted a timed group photo by setting my point and shoot camera on the mantle, where I couldn't see the back.  After two terribly crooked attempts, this is what we got... 

We are so very thankful for these friends who have become so dear to us!  So glad we could spend Christmas eve with them!

Not really sure how to move from that sweet sentiment into something slightly trivial but oh-so-practical, so I guess I will just come out and say it... 


please don't mind the slightly grainy photo shot with a point-and-shoot under flourescent lighting at night...
Luis's parents heard that I had been living like a cavewoman, hanging 30+ socks per week to dry in a freezing cold house (don't even let me get into finding somewhere to hang sheets in winter!), so they took pity on me, graciously providing this fabulous gift for us.  I kid... I kid.  I often tease Luis Miguel when I catch the Portuguese doing something in an inefficient way, calling them "cavemen".  :)  Luckily he has p l e n t y of American stereotypes that he can throw back at me as well.  

Since his parents wanted to make things efficient for us (imagine the thought!) they said we could buy it before  Christmas to ensure we would be home for the delivery, which we planned for the 26th, knowing we would be home.  Contrary to every experience I have had here, the delivery men were EARLY and actually woke us up with their phone call, even though we weren't expecting them until late afternoon at the earliest!  You can probably believe that from the minute we ordered the machine until the minute it was delivered, I saved every towel, sheet, and piece of machine-dry-able laundry to wash that very day and dry immediately after!  Unfortunately, due to Portuguese houses not having walls situated for dryer vents, we have to open our sliding patio door in order to put the vent outside, which makes the kitchen quite chilly, but it's so worth it!

And that, my friends, was our Portuguese-American Christmas.  Here's your token couple-in-front-of-the-tree photo:

the tree in all her evening glory:

and the front of our Christmas card:

photo courtesy of Christopher Whitten
Until the New Year entry... 

"Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we; 
Let all within us praise His holy name. 
Christ is the Lord, that ever, ever praise we. 
Noël! Noël! Oh night; oh night divine!"

- O Holy Night, traditional Christmas Carol -
lyrics by John Sullivan Dwight