You know you are an expat when…

You know you are an expat when your kid asks for Wheat Thins for Christmas…

You know you are an expat when you hear English, in your current country, and you immediately butt in on the conversation…

You know you are an expat when you hear the language of your current country, anywhere else in the world, and you immediately butt in on the conversation…

You know you are an expat when you let your child go to another country for a school trip, but there was no way in hell they were going to band camp in Iowa when you lived in the states…

You know you are an expat when you dream in the language of your current country…

You know you are an expat when you get extremely embarrassed by the behavior of Amazing Race contestants, “What do you mean no one here speaks English….?”  Majorly embarrassed….cringing…..

You know you are an expat when you seriously consider smuggling in your maid, driver, nanny, into the states, because you sure aren’t going to have all of that help when you move back…..

You know you are an expat when you truly try to blend in, even though it is ridiculously futile….

You know you are an expat when a four hour domestic flight sounds like heaven…

You know you are an expat when you realize the small idiosyncrasies of your current country just don’t bother you anymore….

The Race

“Running has taken me in, and continues to comfort, heal and challenge me in all kinds of magical ways. I am not a ‘good runner’ because I am me. I am a good ‘me’ because I am a runner.”— Kristin Armstrong

I was not a “good me.”

I needed a race.

I started my “slightly better than average” running career in Sonoma County, CA 2005 and had raced more than 40 times.  Fast forward, Sao Paulo, Brazil, 2013.  Gone were the hills of Annadel State Park, Marin Headlands and Angel Island…..2000 foot ascents had been replaced by 4% incline runs on the treadmill… Portuguese… kilometers…..I spent every minute on the stupid machine, calculating in my head, kilometers to miles, 10 km divided by 1.6…..12 km divided by 1.6……

My race was chosen based on the fact I could translate the advertisement, period.  10k on a Sunday morning, I could do this.  This would be the first race I ever ran with no friends as running partners, no camaraderie at the start, no hugs….just me, the gringo at the starting line….let me explain this from the beginning…..

The actual photo of the race info poster, I took at the gym

The actual photo of the race info poster, I took at the gym

I signed up for the race online as I had so many other times except this form was in Portuguese, in Brazil, and I was my only running partner.  My husband would be my driver and only fan….

Packets are always picked up 1-2 days prior to the race.  Our pick-up was at a running store, nothing too different than in the US EXCEPT for the prices of shoes, shorts, etc. in the store…. I was wearing my Asics Tri Noosa Black Neon beauties which I bought for $110 USD.  The price of these glow-in-the-dark amazements in the “packet pick up store” was R$499, the equivalent of $250 USD.  I had on some fancy kicks!



Part of “packet pick up” is sizing up the competition, same in Brazil as in the US.  We were checking out each others shoes, watches, compression socks, and Vibrams.  Yes, there were Vibrams and I still think they look dorky and really, you are NOT a Tarahumara Indian, wear R$499 shoes like everyone else!

It was my turn in line. I love walking up to anyone who has to wait on me in Brazil.  They all look at me like, “Oh crap, I have to wait on the German!”  Everyone here assumes I am German.  I think it’s because Brazilians think  the US is so awesome, why would any red-blooded American come HERE?!?  Luckily my Portuguese was good enough to procure my bib, SWAG, and super awesome race shirt.

Now, I must say, Brazil is an amazing country, however she is not a very organized country……I was a little worried about how this whole race was going to go “down.”  Would the water stations be plentiful?  Would the race make sense?  Would I be able to find my way to the finish line?  Would I be killed on the race?  Serious “first world” worries going on!

Jeff (my amazing husband) drove me to the race that morning.  Many of you know he has this “rock star parking power.”  Seriously.  OF course, he did not fail me.  Parked right in front of the pre-race stage, score!  Not sure it was a completely legal parking place, but sometimes those diplomatic license plates do have their advantages.

As in the states, all of the race clubs had tents set up to advertise and fuel their runners…I had no club….no tent to go to….just my Isagenix Oatmeal Bar, e+shot and my awesome husband.  As usual, I have to use the restroom, ALWAYS a brave thing to do before a race….but wait….not here…..they designated mens and women’s port-o-potties!!!  NO MORE going in after “Had-a-too-few-many-guy” or “Ate-everything-with-garlic-man.”  FRESH port-o-potties…..and no line!!!!!



You would NEVER see this in the states!

You would NEVER see this in the states!

After my heavenly port-o-potty adventure, we watched “stretch-and-jazzercize” for awhile and made for the start line.  As we walked to the start, we noticed something…everyone was either wearing their running club shirt OR THE RACE SHIRT!  There is NO wearing the RACE shirt to the RACE!  That is breaking running superstition rule #1, you have to EARN the right to wear the shirt…..I was aghast…however, maybe south of the equator, the rules are different.  Jeff says, “Well at least I’ll be able to see you, you’ll stand out.”  Really, like I don’t already stand out…..really….



Em sua marca, prepare-se, VAI!  And I was off…..47 minutes and 45 seconds later I was done.  I was shooting for a sub 50 minute race.  In order to qualify for “elite” running status in Brazil, females have to run a sub-50 minute 10 km.  (Okay Sonoma County running friends, you can stop laughing now…..I mean it…..stop!)  For a moment I thought I had placed in my age group, but alas I came in 7th in the 40-45 female division.  I had a serious case of “Legend in my own mind” going on!

Ran happy!

Ran happy!

First race in the Southern Hemisphere, check done.  Love the Brazilian spirit of sport and the happy faces after the race.  Have raced again since and will continue to do so.  Blessed to be strong of body and mind, blessed to have an outlet for my crazy days here in Brazil…..

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When the parade passes by….

Befor the gun went off!

Before the gun went off!

So, as a kid, my parents thought, WE thought parades were awesome.  Reality check, parades kind of suck—Boring only until the clowns (scary clowns) came by with candy or you saw someone you actually knew in the parade (whom you made fun of later).  I suppose one day, when my own kids are ever in a parade, I may enjoy one, however, I have never been a fan…..until I was in a parade in Brazil…..


Carnaval was upon us and we had made NO plans to do anything….no Sambadrome, no Rio, no costumes.  Carnaval is the week before Lent, there isn’t a huge blowout on “Fat Tuesday” like in the states.  I think Carnaval is the ONE event that comes to mind when people think of Brazil.  I am under the impression that foreigners think Brazilians walk around in sequin thongs and wear feathered headpieces daily.  I think outsiders expect drum beats surrounding their every move and Brazilians drink all day.  Brazil would not be the 7th largest economy in the world if that were the case.  The reality is everyone parties hard until the weekend after, then the city gets back to business as usual.  I had asked friends “what is the best thing to do during Carnaval?”  “Leave Brazil,” was the #1 answer.  We had friends going to Argentina, Peru, anywhere but here…..hmmmm.  I was thinking we were pretty much screwed.


The starting line!

The starting line!

An e-mail came thru inviting Jeff and I to a bloco.  No freaking clue what a bloco was.  Luckily, that week in Portuguese class, we received a lesson in blocos.  A bloco is a parade you participate in.  You and your friends ARE the parade.  There are bands on buses, clowns (scary), kids in costumes, grown-ups in costumes, candy, AND people actually watch the parade.  Mind you, in Brazil, the onlookers are usually drinking a beer (because it’s Carnaval), so the parade may be a little more interesting…..


Vase guy!  I don't quite know his inspiration......

Vase guy! I don’t quite know his inspiration……

Our Bloco was called the Bloco Esfarrapados or the Shabby Bloco.  It started on the outskirts of the Jardims, a super chic part of town and went on for 3 or so km.  This particular bloco usually attracted 50,000 participants.


The gun goes off!

The gun goes off!


We found the starting point and waited for the bloco to start.  I have participated in over 30 athletic races in the past 7 or so years and I started to get that “at the start of the race” stomach jitters.  Seriously!  I felt like I was getting ready to run a half marathon, except I was wearing TOMS and had no proper “Lady Support” for the girls–but I had THAT feeling…..And the GUN went off…..the balloons were sent into the air and we were off…..yeah, kind of what you would expect “racing” with 50,000 people, didn’t move for about 5 minutes.  Luckily, I hadn’t started my watch yet.


We walked, simple…and it was really fun!  I didn’t bring the girls because I did not know what to expect, but next year they are coming!  We walked, danced, sang, snagged candy, caught promotional crap thrown off the buses, laughed as we were sprayed with “snow” from naughty little kids, drank a beer and enjoyed all the chaos.  A great way to EASE into Carnaval I must say.

 Ready for the party!

Brazilian Guy Ferreri on the left!

My favorite thing about the bloco was watching the people watching us.  Old women smiling, remembering a time they walked the bloco, kids scrambling from their doors to catch candy, waiters patiently taking care of their patrons wishing they were enjoying the festivities instead.  A beautiful day to be in Brazil, a beautiful day to be with friends, a beautiful day for a shabby bloco…

Watching from above...

Watching from above…

Real life happens when you think no one is looking….

I have always had voyeuristic tendencies….As a kid, I used to love to watch families at the airport or people at the pool, especially if they were arguing, or my babysitter as she sat in the garage, sneaking a smoke and talking on the phone. As the mother of two athletes, I spend a lot of time in the car and do my fair share of looking when I should be driving…..people do some messed up stuff in their cars!!! I have seen the usual make-up putter-oners, shaving the facers, newspaper readers, pot smokers, and nose pickers. Once….I saw someone giving themselves a special “handshake”…..yeah, not cool……When I lived in Chicago during my undergrad, I used to loiter home to my apartment so I could look into the windows of the tony Lincoln Park brownstones, trying to get a glimpse of what their furniture looked like or who was in there. I feel there is something very intimate about looking in someone’s window—real life happens when you think no one is looking. These days, I just like to look out my 13th floor apartment windows…..sometimes with binoculars and sometimes without….I often wonder, “who is looking at me….”

This is the view from my kitchen window, the first view I have every morning.

Good Morning Brazil!

Good Morning Brazil

It’s not very pretty….the airport, the grocery store, and restaurants galore. I love the walking culture of my neighborhood….I can walk to the grocery store, the gym, coffee, anywhere. We are lucky not to have any noise from the airport, however, we do hear the helicopter commuters as they buzz the building.

This is the view from the sala de almoço, otherwise known as the lunchroom…..never eaten lunch in here, btw…seriously though, we call it the “Weird Room.” I think we call it that because we’re not sure we’re supposed to be in here….

Nice view from the weird room

Nice view from the weird room

The best thing about this view are the PUPPIES who live in the apartment building you can see with the rounded porches. These little ones have been living there for about 3 weeks and they are so cute. Now, I do use the binoculars to watch them, however, watching mom and dad is better. Jeff and I have viewed what we call the “I don’t know why in the hell we got these two stupid dogs” conversations a couple of times already. Also, sometimes, the parents of the parents of the dogs (got that?) have to do puppy play time too—-they are not that into it. Little do they know, all they have to do is call my 10 year-old and I over and we would totally rock puppy play time!

This particular building also has quite a few porch worker-outers—-there are two treadmills and a stationary bike—I bet they have binoculars too…...”Yeah Honey, I’m going to go work-out”….sure….

These are two views from my front porch…..

....and the other

….and the other

One side of the tracks....

One side of the tracks….










On the left you see some residential homes, apartments and a covered soccer field. On the right you see some residential homes, apartments and a covered soccer field. Not really different, right…..

What you don’t see is the vast invisible socioeconomic divide….The right picture shows the Brazil with money—fancy apartments with doormen, gardeners, maids, drivers, helipads, tree-lined streets…..The left shows the “other” Brazil—favelas (ghettos), traffic, beggars, drug addicts, families collecting cardboard to sell for fifty cents a kilo….Not much separates the two, but they are worlds apart….

This is the view from my back porch…..

Back proch

Not much to see here but people making dinner, kids playing in the parks below and families enjoying a swim. I call the large apartment on the left the Different Strokes apartment. I imagine fancy meals being served there and heads of state living in the penthouse. For all I know, someone living there is watching me, wondering why I spend so much time just looking….little do they know, I’m just watching real life in real-time….

Step 8

“Closing time
One last call for alcohol so finish your whiskey or beer.
Closing time
You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.”

I made a New Years Goal (I don’t do resolutions) to write my blog once a week starting Monday (yesterday).  I received a call Sunday night, my biological father had passed away.  I decided then I was not capable of starting off the goal with a snarky recap of my days here in Brazil, but a little glimpse of my relationship with my father, Jay Michael Hilton (1944-2013).

My father was an alcoholic.  I am guessing the drinking started in High School or college.  He was a decorated athlete and very intelligent, however, like so many, he had a closet full of demons which turned the frat house drinking into a daily habit.

My father left our house when I was 11, so I have the most vivid memories of life at home.  I remember a man who had a big laugh, beautiful brown eyes, and really tried to connect with me when he could.  I also remember police escorts home at 1am, drunken mistakes he made we were pressured to ignore, and a man who was merciless at the dinner table.  I recall people thinking he was an awesome guy,  the guy who would buy a round at the bar or willing to go hunting anytime.  I also recall, after these jovial events, the criticism and fear in our home.  As the first born girl of three, I tried to be the quintessential daughter, however this was difficult.  We were reminded on a regular basis we all should have been boys, named “John.”

I know my father, sans alcohol, could have always been an amazing person.  I’m sure he even had some high points as an alcoholic.  He had a successful career, up to a point, and tried to have successful relationships, just not so much with my mother, sisters, and I.  He had a sister who loved him, daughters who desperately wanted to, and friends who wanted to help, some even walked away because they loved him…..

After he left we saw him very intermittently.  A stay here or there when my mom went out of town.  An awkward meal on a birthday or Christmas.  We all attended his weddings (#2 & #3) and were hopeful these women could save him, God knows they tried.  Alcohol had a grip on him…..

As I became an adult and had a family of my own, I forgave my father (between God and myself) and made the decision to wait for Step 8;  “Make a list of all persons we have harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all.”  That was his in.  One step 8 call or letter to myself, my sisters or my mother and I would embrace him with open arms.  That call or letter would let me know he was truly invested in his recovery and loved us.  Imagine, he finally loved us more than alcohol….
never got the call…
he never got back in…..

As I write I am reminded of one instance I made him truly proud.  New Years Eve, 1976 (may have been ‘75) I asked my father to quit smoking.  He took the cigarettes and threw them into the fireplace.  Every year after that, until he left, he reminded me that I was the one who encouraged him to quit and I would get a great big bear hug.  Sitting here, I can feel that hug….Dad, I hope you found peace….

“GOD, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living ONE DAY AT A TIME, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as the pathway to peace. Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will, that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.”
-The Serenity Prayer

If you or someone you love is powerless over alcohol, please contact Alcoholics Anonymous.

Language barrier or breakthrough…..

We are the world…..yeah, right…..

The most frustrating thing to date about living in Brazil is the language barrier.  Imagine being dropped off on Mars, granted you could live there, and expected to prosper.  My situation seems less drastic, however, sometimes I think Mars would be easier—they would just make me their slave and life would be predictable…..

There is a loneliness I did not expect when you are the “foreigner.”  I am flattered when people speak to me in Portuguese because I THINK they think I’m Brazilian—fat chance.   I did not realize I would stick out that much, but I seem to scream, “AMERICA.” The blond highlights, American branded clothing, sharp facial features, the only person who sweats at the gym, flat butt…..   I did have an Argentinean woman  tell me she thought I was Dutch, because the family is so tall and she was 75% correct, the kids and the hubby are, not me—-100% western Euro in the house.  So what happens when you look the part of the outsider?  You are treated like one…..

I started Rosetta Stone before we moved, in an effort to learn a bit of Portuguese.  FYI, just BUYING it, does not a fluent speaker make…..I did some of the lessons but appreciate it SO much more now that I actually hear it every day and have somewhat of an understanding.  On top of RS, I am taking class twice a week in a group.  I am the dumbest student in the class…..really…..Post-graduate degree my ass, this is the hardest thing I have ever studied.  I have learned in my old age that I am a VISUAL learner period and I am now learning an auditory subject—say what?  Seriously, if I were getting a grade, I think I would be getting a D, oh, and I think I annoy the others in the class because I suck.  The teacher tried to make a “special” class for myself and a couple of my other dumb gringo pals, but it fell through—-so, the “smarties” are stuck with me and it causes great anxiety for me every Tuesday and Thursday from 9:45-11 am.

This experience has been a training in empathy for sure.   I have been annoyed by those who don’t speak MY language in MY country and now, well, I’m the one not speaking YOUR language in YOUR country….or so I thought…..

I have really been trying to do all the normal things I used to do in the states; grocery shop, farmers market, gym, dry cleaners, etc….it helps me use my meager language skills and maybe will help me get a life.  I usually apologize up front to every native speaker, “Desclupe, meu Portuguese e terrivel.” (Sorry, my Portuguese is terrible)  Most often the response is “Esta tudo bem” (It’s fine) and they speak louder and slower.  Rarely, but on occasion, people are total tools and either completely ignore me OR roll their eyeballs, universal sign for, “I don’t get paid enough to deal with this lady.”

Today was ‘pick up the dry cleaning’ day and the husband told me I could do it.  Lucky me…..So after Portuguese class I stopped at the shop, walked in, greetings, handed her the receipt and had to ask a question about a shirt I wanted mended, oh crap, here we go, “Desclupe, eu nao falo Portuguese (Sorry, I really don’t speak Portuguese) and they start laughing…..So, I start laughing…..She tells me my Portuguese is great and I should keep speaking, so I actually was able to tell her about the shirt.  She wants to fix it right there and I say, “Amanha e bom” (tomorrow is fine).  She laughs again and says, Voce no fala, eh?! (You don’t speak, huh?!).  I left feeling like I had created fire, language breakthrough….thank you Lord….Eu falo….

An American girl walks into a Brazilian Gym…..

If you have an aversion to panty lines, read on.  If you have no interest in reading about them, skip this post and go buy some thongs, because if you have no interest in reading about them, you don’t own any….or you are Brazilian….and mom, I’m not writing about flip-flops…..

I have always belonged to a gym.  My first membership was to the Chicago Bally’s Health Club, otherwise known as “pick me up, I’m wearin’ a thong” central.  It was the early 90’s and the thong leotard was BIG!  I had 6-7 of them in amazing colors that nature never intended and the remnants of an 80’s spira- wrap perm to add texture.  I took step aerobics, cardio jam, and ab blaster classes.  Believe it or not, I used to go to happy hour with my co-workers on Friday and then go to step aerobics with a beer buzz.   That was how committed to fitness I was.

When we moved to Brazil, I told my husband we needed a gym, pronto.  I started working out at the gym at his office (See, Who are the people in my neighborhood for a review) but it was so lonely and I began talking to the equipment, and they were answering me back.  After some brief research (huh, which one is closest to the apartment) we found our gym, however, no pool and the cost was twice what we were paying in the states, however, still less than drug addiction and therapy (so I exaggerated my need a bit much…).

We walk into our new gym and what do I see—-PANTY LINES EVERYWHERE!  We are talking, granny panty lines, almost thong panty lines, panties you can see thru the spandex, ALL BRAZILIAN WOMEN WEAR UNDERWARE TO WORKOUT!  I could not stop looking and pointing out to my husband all the lines I was seeing—He had already discovered this in the 2 ½ months he lived here prior to our arrival and he was over it, but me, no way—all I could look at were Brazilian bumbums!!!  Now, I need to point out, as a very white, chemically enhanced blond with little social filter and a perpetual WTH look on my face, I believe I may have been making somewhat of a spectacle of myself.  I was dumfounded…..

So, I ask Brazilian Julie (my awesome friend and to guide to all things Brazil), “What’s up with the panty lines?”  ‘What do you mean,” she says.  “Um, American women don’t wear underwear to work out,” my reply.  Julie asks, “Why?”

Why don’t we, I wondered….and did I just give away secured intel to the women of Brazil?  I think it has everything to do with panty lines.  The more I think about it, the sillier it seems—-we all wear underwear, so why do we want to hide it so badly…..Do we really want people to think we aren’t wearing underwear….?

I know why we don’t when we work out, or should I say, I know why I don’t…..Years ago, some of you may remember, I ran 18 miles on a treadmill.  It was raining and I was training for a marathon and I didn’t want to get wet.  I was wearing a thong under my spandex.  Let’s just say  I am done with that monkey business.  Also, American made athletic apparel for women is specifically made for us to go commando.  Have you EVER seen panty lines on a LuLu Lemon model, NO!  Go ahead, check for yourself…..

I had Julie shopping on in a nanosecond (hey, LuLu, that’s two references, show me some love!).  Julie explained that Brazilian athletic wear is not made for women to go commando.  BTW, she really liked LuLu (3rd reference).

I have more to report, butt that is all for now……