‘Come as you are’ Christmas Pageant

I love church Christmas pageants.  What I do not love is when parents get crazy and try to ‘one up each other’ in creating elaborate costumes or fancy outfits.  When we lived in the South, it was common practice for parents to buy spectacular one-of-a-kind smocked dresses for their little girls to be angels in the church pageant.

I remember helping out one year and a little girl was crying her eyes out.  She did not have a fancy white dress to play an angel, instead she had a white pillowcase with the head and arms cut out.  She was so embarrassed and I felt sick for her.  I decided that when my priest was in charge, things would be different.

At our church here in Portugal, they haven’t had a pageant in probably 15 years.  I decided that we would host a ‘come as you are’ pageant.  I have a simple script that only a narrator reads from and all the other parts are handed out to the kids in the audience.  I supplied the costumes so everyone could be included.  I had costumes for shepherds, angels, donkeys, kings, Mary and Joseph.  I was worried that not enough kids would come to the Christmas Eve service, but as God would have it, it was a full house.

The kids were so excited to be a part of the telling of the birth of Jesus.  Parents were beaming to see their little stars on display. We had kids as young as 16 months old to a teenager of 18.   My Pippa was Mary and Maggie was a narrator.  My  own parents were here to see their grandkids squirm and giggle at the front of the church.  No  one worried about the staging or having a stray donkey wander off the stage.  It was chaos and it was perfect.

I really think all pageants should be this relaxed.  It’s not about the costumes, it’s about Christmas and the joy it brings.

Roses for a grave

My priest and I recently went to see an English theatre production of ‘The Mikado.’ The Lisbon Players have been around since the mid-1940’s. They occupy a small space in what used to be a parish hall of the Anglican Church my husband is now in charge of.
We decided our very best bet was to park in the cemetery attached to St. George’s Church and then walk around the corner to the theater. The cemetery is completely walled and not visible from the street.  Parking in Lisbon is brutal and this space is genius.

My priest unlocked and opened the huge steel gate and we drove into the cemetery and church grounds.   It was completely black out and we expected to be alone.  Then out of the shadows appeared a very dedicated church volunteer.   He helps out so much that he even has his own set of keys to the church grounds and cemetery.   He was carrying  a small vase with two beautiful pink roses inside.

It was 7  in the evening on a Sunday.   It was quite chilly outside… a night where I would have preferred to stay in with a fire and some port.   I asked the man with the roses what he was doing in the cemetery in the dark.   He said that he had been in Sintra, a 30 minute drive away, tending to his dead wife’s favorite garden.  He noticed that her roses look particularly lovely and he wanted to share them with her.  He is a young man, no more than 50 years old and his beloved wife was killed by cancer.

He was alone, in the dark with gorgeous roses.  Roses he just had to share with the person who cultivated them, but is no longer alive to enjoy their beauty.  I asked him to show me his wife’s grave next week, in the day light.  He was so pleased that I wanted to see his wife’s resting place.

As my priest and I left him to go to the play, I couldn’t stop crying.  This man loved his wife.  He lost his wife, yet he continued to romance her.  He knew the joy those two roses would have brought her and he couldn’t wait to share them with her.    I want to live and love with that intensity.  I want my people to know now, how very much I love them.  I truly hope that when I die, someone loves me enough to visit me in the dark with two simple roses, just because.

Piranha in Portugal

Piranha… my 15 year old Bichon Frise is mostly blind, completely deaf and missing all but 11 teeth. She is not in love with our town. Dogs viciously bark at her through their gates…she can’t hear them, so it is even more disturbing when they try to nip at her through the bars of their front yard prisons.
Most dogs never go for a walk and when they do, they are free to pee and poop anywhere they want and no one bothers to pick it up. Piranha enjoys all of the nasty smells, but that’s about it.
Now, as a dog raised in California for her formative years, the beach is her dream spot. She feels joy there. You can see her feet start to dance and her nose intensely sniff the air. In her younger years, she could play for hours on the beach. She would bury her ball and then dig it up. It caused her to eat a lot of sand and then hours later after some distress, she would poop out sand castles.
We no longer let her eat sand. She no longer can see a ball to play catch, but she still loves to roll in the sand.
We live a 5 minute drive from the beach. Piranha gets at least one weekly outing to the ocean. Before our eyes, she becomes a puppy again. A crazy, white fluff ball romping in the surf and chasing smells.
I am really happy that she will get to live out her golden years near a place that brings her such happiness. I hope one day, I am so lucky.

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Carousel of death…I may just be a hero…maybe.

I took Pippa to the beautiful antique carousel in Cascais. We bought €10 worth of tickets in October…which gives us 12 rides.  No one else was there, so we turned in a ticket and Pippa hopped on the ride.  At the last minute, this lady put her approximately 18 month old kid on a stationary elephant…it was a basket on top of an elephant to be exact.  Then she proceeded to go and talk on her phone on a bench near the carousel.

I was enjoying watching Pippa.  She was quite thrilled and then I noticed the little boy attempting to escape from the carousel.  The first time he passed me he just seemed agitated.  The second  pass he was getting pretty determined to escape.  By his third pass, I was freaking out.  I ran to where he was and I tried to tell him to not jump out.  The kid spoke no English, so I just shouted no in Portuguese.  This did not make him happy.  Meanwhile, his mother is clueless, still chatting on her phone.  I am running beside the carousel trying to convince this kid to not jump out.  My hands were full, but I threw everything on the ground, including my purse, and tried to grab the kid as he tried to jump.  He was screaming at me and trying to kick me…finally… the mother heard and casually, while still on the phone, restrained him.  She said nothing to me about my valient rescue attempt.  She didn’t even flinch.

At home, kids are not allowed on a carousel alone until at least 3.   How do I know this? My children have been obsessed with carousels forever and I have had to pay admission to ride them in order to keep them safe.   I have no official tally of how much money I have wasted, but as I said before I am a sucker.    When the woman eventually hung up her phone call, she made eye contact with me and mouthed the words ‘thank you.’  I told Pippa I was a Higglytown hero… if you don’t know what that is just google it.  Apparently there are no rules in Portugal as to how young a child can be when they ride alone on the carousel.  Just another example of my North American sensibilities screwing me over.  Maybe Portugal will teach me how not to be so over protective…then again it might also make me crazy anxious for even more kids than my own.

 This photo was taken before my heroic rescue attempt.


Christmas village and cups of delight.

Portugal seems to like hosting Christmas villages. They are these sweet little markets everywhere all decked out for the holidays.  Lights, crafts, wine…really what could be better?

Everyone talks about the Christmas village in Obidos. It is about an hour away from Lisbon along a mega fast toll highway  (€6 one way). The village of Obidos is a walled medieval fairy land. You enter the town through a gate. The inside of the gate house is lined with Portuguese blue tiles. I cannot get used to how much I love these tiles, even though they appear on the outside of my own house and on the inside, I still love seeing them.  Projected on the fortress entrance are falling snowflakes. It is truly magical.

Entering the town is free. Lights are strung across the narrow streets. Vendors sell hot chocolate and this unbelievably dreamy drink called ‘ginja,’ which is a delicacy from the region. It is a sour cherry liqueur that they serve in an edible chocolate cup. There are no words. I could have drank a hundred of them, but I wouldn’t have been able to walk my kids around the village…thank you to my daughter who repeatedly reminded me of this fact.   This drink from heaven was €1. How people are not stumbling around this town is beyond me.

Christmas music is coming out of every store and kids are in awe of the window displays. Further into town, you are struck by the enormous walls of the inner fortress. Here you must pay €6 per adult and €5 per kid to enter. Inside these walls is a kids paradise. This place would never exist in the US or Canada, because it is poorly lit and the pathways have not been fixed up for centuries. Huge boulders and rocks are everywhere. Dangerous is an understatement, but no one seems to care. My kids didn’t even take notice of the fact that the top walls of the fort (which kids could climb) had drop offs of about 60 feet. North American families would be panicked. Not one parent seemed to even care that their kids were playing near the wall of death…that made all the worrying fall on my capable shoulders. I worried enough for everyone.

The village has a snow hill with sleds, ice skating, small rides, a zip line, Santa and countless booths filled with sweets that left us all on a complete sugar high. One such treat was a giant marshmallow. You could choose from a range of flavors and each marshmallow was covered in chocolate. I forced the girls to give me a bite of each of theirs and I strategically chose a flavor they wouldn’t like…score one for me!

My southern daughters are not used to snow, so the sled ride was a dream come true. I opted out of letting them ice skate. I didn’t want to watch them kill themselves or others. It would have been ugly.

Overall, this is a must see. This gorgeous town on a hill with thick walls of stone and quaint winding streets. Just like a Tuscan hill town…but in Portugal and don’t forget the chocolate cups of wonder!




Oceanarium of Lisbon

I am not a fan of zoos and I usually avoid places where animals are caged. Not really my thing. I do make an exception for aquariums. There is something so magical about watching mysterious aquatic life swim. I should say I also avoid aquariums with dolphins and of course whales…too majestic to see swimming in a tank.

All of that aside, everyone raves about the aquarium in Lisbon. It is said to be the largest in Europe and something to see.
We decided that since we would probably not get a chance to see it all in one visit, we got an annual pass. This is a terrific deal if you intend on going more than once.
It was €65 for a family of four for the year.

Upon entering the oceanarium,  you see a gigantic display of fish, rays and sharks. This tank follows you everywhere. There are different views into the tank from a million vantages. It is stunning and worth a trip just to see it. Artists sit and sketch the residents of the tank. Kids dance in front of a captive audience. It is a spectacular display of diverse aquatic life.

My youngest daughter loved the penguin exhibit. It is an open room with small icebergs sticking out. You can get so close to the penguins and you can easily watch them waddle around, as well as dive and swim. The tank they dive into is visible from the level below. You can see them play in the water and swim at dizzying speeds.

There is so much to do and see. Excellent interactive zone for kids as well. This is the perfect spot to take a break from touring around Lisbon…whether it is a cold and rainy  day, or it is too hot outside and you need a heat break…visit this lovely spot. You won’t regret it.





I am a sucker for Mary.

Maggie’s school just had their Christmas show. To say I had low expectations, would be an understatement. In my experience, Christmas shows are painful. Long, endless productions where you watch your kid and look at your watch.

Maggie was chosen to be Mary. I am not sure if this is because she is the best actress, or because her dad is a priest and they wanted to win favor…either way, she was thrilled.

She practiced relentlessly.  She sang non-stop.   She was nervous.  We crowded into her school auditorium.  Standing room only.  As we waited for it to begin, I heard countless different languages being spoken around me.  I always love that.  People from all parts of the world, living in Cascais, Portugal for various reasons, all choosing to send their precious kids to this Christian school.

The play started with kids welcoming the audience in 15 different languages.  Kids proudly speaking in their native tongues.  Then the narrators took over.  One was Greek and the other American.  They did a comedy bit where the Greek pretended to not believe in Jesus and the American moved the story along until the Greek believed.  Cute.

Maggie shined as Mary.  You could see her true goodness radiate from her onstage and she was not alone in her enthusiasm.  Her classmates sang and acted their hearts out.  I was brought to tears to see teenagers and 6 year olds singing beside each other.  They all appeared happy.  I saw no embarrassment.  I saw no resentment.  I saw joy.  A delight.

Being around people from all over the world has been so good for my daughter.  She is understanding that Christmas is celebrated differently everywhere, but for those who believe the importance of the holiday is universal.


A 6 year old’s view on Trump

Every day I make my six-year-old daughter write in a journal. Most of the time she writes about toys, adventures or food she wants to eat. The day after the US presidential election this is what she wrote… “Donald Trump was elected president.  He is a bad man.”

I asked her to tell me why she wrote that.  She said that I made her watch the debate and she thought he wasn’t very nice to Hillary.  When I asked her to describe the picture, her answer almost killed me.  In the picture Donald Trump is drinking beer (with a straw) and yelling at Hillary.  It seems appropriate.  I thought the hair was perfect.


Surfer 🏄

Pippa has decided that she is going to be a surfer.  Surfing is extremely popular in the Lisbon area.  I had never seen a European surfer dude until we moved here.  Picture a California surfer dude, now picture the same attitude and hair cut in spiffy European clothing.  Pretty sweet combination.

After watching surfers for weeks, she asked us to buy her a wet suit.  We did.  Now, I had to break it to her that she had no board and in fact has only used a boogie board in the past.  She said it didn’t matter.  She was determined to just get wet and feel the waves.  She really is a nut job.

She seemed to enjoy the cold Atlantic Ocean in December.  Point of fact, there are no sharks here.  The water is too cold apparently.  This information has encouraged Pippa in her new pursuit.  Keep you posted.


Really? Play-Doh World…try again.

Everywhere we go we see advertisements for the Play-Doh Christmas land in the mall in Sinatra, Portugal.  There are signs all over the sides of the highway.  Advertisements in all the newspapers.  My kids were psyched.  This was going to be special.

We arrived and the Play-Doh world was closed…opening at 4 pm.  We waited the 15 minutes.  Maggie sees a sign saying no kids allowed over 8 years of age.  She is heart broken.  She wanted to play.  I asked the worker who told me that she was too big.  She asked me her age and when I said 11, she said that my daughter was a taller than most Portuguese women.  True dat.  It just seems cruel to end Christmas fun at 8.

So what was Play-Doh world?  Everything was covered in the stuff, even the train.  The kids got to play with Play-Doh…wow.  Not sound too cynical, but this was supposed to be a BIG deal.  A world of Play-Doh.  We envisioned work shops, games, rides….we got a dinky train and a few cookie cutters.  Next time we know to not believe the hype.

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