Maggie’s perspective

Maggie loves to take pictures. She tries to call them Tumblr. She spends too much time looking for unique shots, but I must say I think she does do a pretty cool job.

You can see more of her cool pictures on Instagram: @magnificent_maggie32

Maggie’s new penny board on a cool Lisbon sidewalk.

Flowers for sale

Carousel ticket in Cascais

Stairs leading into the only vegetarian restaurant in our neighborhood.

Ferris wheel in Lisbon

High Ropes course…no supervision necessary


We heard about this cool high ropes and zip lining course not far from our house. I called to make an appointment to go…there really was no need because we were the only people there.

Just outside of Belem is Adventure Park. It is set in a forest that has loads of walking trails running through it. We pulled up and there was a wooden building where we went into pay.
You can buy a pack of passes that allow you multiple entries, but I wanted to make sure the kids liked it first. We have a place like this near our cottage in Ontario, Canada but it is crazy expensive and I never let the kids go. Every summer they ask and every summer I say no. When I told them they were going to the high ropes course here, they were shocked.
At our cottage, it costs about $150 for an hour of zip lining and treetop adventures . What do you think it cost in Portugal? How about €12.50 or $15. What? Really? Yes, really.

The kids are put in a harness but are given no helmets. That made me a little anxious, especially since they were so high off the ground.  They had to pull the rope that kept them safe with them.  There were a few cases where they got tangled up and I was sweating from 30 feet below.  However, they figured it out.  Alone.  They had a guide who was up in the trees with them, but he was just there to keep an eye on them.  Better than nothing.

The course included loads of different obstacles   and ended in a zip line from the trees to the ground.  Absolutely impressive.

The kids were champs.  Pippa did look extremely nervous at the beginning.  She constantly brags about being a junior Nik Wallenda…world famous tightrope walker.  Instead, unlike Nik, she grabbed hold of the ropes and never let go.  She didn’t trust the harness.  The cool part was that they got to do two loops of the course and by the end she was a rock star…no Nik Wallenda though.  Maggie was in heaven, even zip lining upside down.

I continue to be amazed at all of the awesome things to do Portugal.  Awesome and cheap…what could be better.

View of the monkeys above our heads….

Priest kid said what?

I have started a Sunday school with the help of a lovely lady from church. She does the curriculum and I do the crafts. I am pretty terrible at crafts, but my heart is in the right place.
This past Sunday, the lady in charge, talked to the kids about the importance of giving to the church. She described the purpose of giving to the church collection plate and she asked the kids to consider giving some money from their own allowance so they can truly contribute and make it a lifelong habit. It was an excellent message. Very movingly conveyed.

Listening to all of this was my youngest daughter Pippa. She raised her hand and said, “you know that the money just goes to my dad.” I wanted to crawl into a hole and die. Pippa smiles and happily declares that her priest father is embezzling church money. I had to intervene and explain to her that dad takes the money at the front of the church, but that the money went to supporting the church and everything it does. She then says, “like paying my dad?” She never cuts me break.

I think I will have to give up being mortified by her because in the end, the kid really is funny.

Cross Country Meet From Hell

Maggie trained all fall for a cross country meet.  For one meet and one meet only.  We received no details about what was happening, just a date.  We had no idea how long the race was, what age group she was running against, what terrain she would be running on…just when.  As the date finally approached, I called the school.  I wanted to watch the meet.  I had run cross country as a kid and I was thrilled to see Maggie doing the same thing.

I called the school the day before the meet in December and I was told that the race was cancelled because it was supposed to rain.  They were going to postpone it.  They would let us know until when.  Maggie came home and told us the meet is now in January.  She knows nothing else.  She tells me to chill out.  Apparently, she hasn’t met me.  Hello, I am your mother, I do not chill out.  I need details.

Eventually, we are told the meet is on January 11th.  I decide to get my priest to call the school.  He seems to get somewhere.  They tell him where we need to be to see the race.  They tell him the time.  All good progress.  He asks how the kids are getting to the meet and he is told on the school bus.  In the USA, when my kids went away from school property, I signed and returned a permission slip with details.  It outlined everything I needed to know.  Here in Portugal, it is a crazy guessing game.  My priest got just enough information.  We at least could go watch her.

We arrived at the meet with Pippa and my parents in tow.  The place was huge with thousands of kids roaming about.  There was a clear finish line with a blow-up arch way.  We headed in that direction and tried to find Maggie in a sea of kids in various private school uniforms.  She spotted us.  I went over to talk with her.  She was anxious.  She finally knew that the race was 1.5 kilometers long.  Not the best distance for her, she has stamina, not quick speed.  It was also on a mix of dirt and sand.  I told her if she won I would give her €10.  Greatest mother ever.  My mother was horrified.  She berated me for putting too much pressure on Maggie.  Whatever.  I call it incentive.  Maggie is very motivated by money and loves when I challenge her with cash.

While she was hanging with her classmates, I watched the other races.  Maggie was screwed. They didn’t line the kids up in any order.  It was a mosh pit.  Kids fighting to get near the front.  Pushing.  Shoving.  Scary.  We stood by and watched the girls ages 9 and under race.  As they approached the finish line, two girls were neck in neck for second and third place.  We watched them elbow and then shove each other to beat each other out.  I was stunned.  I have never witnessed children attacking each other in cross country.  It is usually a solitary sport.  I knew Maggie was even more screwed. She is not aggressive and would never shove someone in a race.

In the distance, we see hundreds of girls (no exaggeration) assemble for Maggie’s race start.  It looks like chaos.  We hear the gun go off and we wait near the finishing line.  We can see nothing.  After a few minutes, we see a girl clearly in a commanding lead.  It is not Maggie, don’t get excited.  We watch the top finishers run in.  We wait.  We see Maggie solidly in the middle of the group.  She is running hard, but looks disappointed.  As the girls finish, they walk in a single file line in order to rank them.  They are given a bottle of water and a cereal bar as they cross the line.

I greet my baby and ask her if she tried her best; the only thing I ever really care about.  She says no, she didn’t.  When the race started, kids began to push and shove each other.  She was pushed into the sand.  She never really recovered her stride.  Her coach joined us at the finish line and said he was proud of her.  I told him she was a little disappointed in herself.  He then asked her if she used her elbows.  Elbows?  She said no.  The coach had told her to be aggressive, but she doesn’t have it in her.  I could say she will be ready next time,  but the truth is, she won’t be ready.  I either need to toughen her up for Portugal, or sign her up for sports that come with intense protective gear.


My parents navigating a sea of crazy and my runner.

Where do kids ride their skateboards? Scooters?

My daughters were both dreaming of scooters and skateboards for Christmas.  It was on the top of their Santa lists.  I understand wanting them, I was just not sure where they could use them.

The sidewalks here in our part of Portugal are all made of stone mosaics.  Not a flat surface at all.  They are insanely beautiful with intricate patterns.  Great to look at, not practical for anything else.  Hard to walk, harder to run on and impossible to ride on.  Also, sidewalks are basically just parking spaces here.  People use the nice wide sidewalks to pull up on to and leave their cars.  Oh yeah, and dog poop is everywhere.  Truly a mine field.   At Maggie’s school, the only way to pick her up is to drive on the sidewalk where kids are exiting school at the same time.  Extremely dangerous, but normal.

Alas, Santa granted their wishes.  Maggie got her skateboard and Pippa her scooter.  They started out riding on the ceramic tile in our backyard.  They didn’t get too far.  They needed more space.  We decided to take them to the Estrella park in Lisbon.  The park is gorgeous.  Lots of room to move around.  Cement pathways.  Mature magnolia trees, a play structure and a coffee place…what else do you need?

Apparently, every kid in the greater Lisbon area who received some sort of toy with wheels decided to practice their skills at the park.  It was a complete and total traffic jam.  Kids with new toys and no skills were everywhere.  Some had helmets and protective gear. Other kids were wild, weaving in between people and speeding like complete nut jobs.  Maggie was cautious.  Pippa was fearless.

After about an hour, my nerves were shot.  The kids wanted to forge ahead.  I gave in and let them practice for a few more minutes with promises of returning to the park soon…after the holiday crush.  A week later, I brought them back.  Less traffic jams, thankfully, but they are never going to become masters because they really can only practice at this park.  This is reality for my newly minted European kids.  Cool sidewalks that you can’t use.

You never realize how easy riding your scooter or skateboard is on a paved sidewalk until you don’t have one.


What? Walking Fortress Walls. WRONG.

In the awesome medieval town of Obidos, one can walk the entire walls of the fortress that surrounds the town.  We went to see the Christmas village there less than a month ago, but with family in town, I thought another trip was in order.

There are scary stone staircases with no railings that lead up to the top of the walled city’s protective barrier.  There are signs that warn that it is dangerous and young children are not encouraged to walk the perimeter of the walls.  No, really?  The top of the walls, in some places, measure 43 feet high with nothing stopping you from plummeting to your death.  Of course, after seeing this my brother thought it was a great idea to take my 6 year old daughter up there for a jaunt.

I saw him take Pippa by the hand and march up one of the steep and scary staircases.  I thought they were stopping there, but that would have been too safe.  No, he proceeded to take her to the top of the fortress, where, like the nut job she is, she leaned over the edge and waved at me.  I started to feel intense panic.  Chest constricting  anxiety.  I yelled for her to come down.  Casually, Pippa and my brother returned, but not after a few more waves from on high.  My mom said I needed to relax more.  I said I will relax when I am dead.   I tend to exaggerate.

After multiple requests by my children to climb back up to the top of the walled city, I decided I would check it out for myself.  Maybe it wasn’t so bad.  Holy crap!  It was way worse.  Like big time way worse.  Once I was at the top, I thought I was going to die.  First of all, I have permanent vertigo.  It is pretty nasty and up high like that…let’s just say, death seem imminent.  Secondly, the stones are uneven (hundreds of years old and constantly exposed to the elements).  There were also pot holes and wonky stones.  Thirdly, no railings.  Come on.  Why are people even allowed up there?  Remember…up to 43 feet high!  We would never let people even close to that in North America.  We care about safety and tourists not falling to their death and landing on top of other tourists.  Bad for business.

I clutched the wall for dear life and made my way down the next flight of stairs.  My family was waiting for me and my kids were ready to try the same walk I had just completed.  Maggie,  my 11 year old, saw the look on my face and knew instantly it was not going to happen.  EVER.  Pippa was halfway up the stairs when I got my priest to yank her back.

Maggie looked at me and said, “is this another thing we can do after we turn 18?”  Typically, anything dangerous or remotely romantic (kissing), must be attempted after 18 years of age in my world.  I figure by that time, they will have forgotten about it and I can continue to sleep at night.  I told her that even after 18 it was questionable.  Why do I have the feeling, that Pippa will sneak out in the middle of the night, get someone to drive her the hour to Obidos and start walking the fortress walls.  One kid feels my pain, the other wants to cause me more pain.   Never a dull moment.

I took pictures from up high, documenting my impending demise. Notice my family below looking like ants.

Flashback… Napoleon Dynamite stalker.

Maggie, my eldest daughter, was born at the UCLA hospital.    We were living in Pacific Palisades, California at the time.   The Palisades is a small town in between Santa Monica and Malibu on the coast.   We actually lived on Sunset Boulevard.

When Maggie was little, I would wander around the neighborhood with her in the stroller.    We would go for long walks and she would take her favorite toy with her. That toy was a Napoleon Dynamite stuffed doll wearing a “Vote for Pedro” shirt and the inconic black winter boots.  When Maggie would press Napoleon’s hand he said a variety of phrases.  All classic lines from the movie.  Odd toy for a baby, yes, but my priest and I love that movie.  I even bought my priest a shirt for Valentine’s Day that says, “I have skills.”  A reference to Napolean saying that skills are needed for the ladies to like you.

One sunny California day, we were on a walk.  Maggie was sitting in the stroller holding Napoleon and I was pushing the stroller.  We were on the sidewalk, not far from our house, when I saw a man walking towards us.  I didn’t really take note on who he was.  Just a tall, awkward looking guy.  Maggie was repeatedly pressing Napoleon’s hand and he was saying crazy phrases.  As the man on the sidewalk got closer, I noticed it was Jon Heder….Napoleon Dynamite himself.

I was mortified.  You could hear the doll saying, “vote for Pedro,” “lucky”…you get the idea.  I knew he thought I was a crazy stalker who had roped my toddler into being my assistant.  Why did I instantly go to that crazy thought?  We met him directly outside of his apartment.  Apparently, he lived right down the street from us and I was blocking his path to his front door with my Napoleon wielding child.  He gave me this extremely awkward look and rushed…like really rushed…into his home.  No words were exchanged.  All it took was a look from Jon Heder.  A look that said, “if I see you and that baby stalker again, the police will be called.”

We still walked the neighborhood, but we had to change our route and the Napoleon doll had to stay home.

Learning Portuguese from a Barista

My trips to Starbucks are getting fewer. Firstly, the frappucinos don’t really taste the same, not as sweet and processed like I enjoy them. Secondly, they cost a fortune here. When an average high quality coffee out costs between 50¢ and $1, the almost $6 coffee seems even more obscene.
Here is my problem though…my barista is the only one I have teaching me Portuguese. She won’t let me order now unless it is in Portuguese. She tries to trip me up and asks me random questions. It is tricky stuff, but I have come to really enjoy her brand of torture. I feel like I am paying now, not just for the price of a coffee, but for a little tutoring as well.
Pippa also enjoys doing homeschool at Starbucks. I drink and she works away, while often convincing me that her dedication to learning should have earned her a cinnamon bun. Hard to argue against that logic.

So what am I to do? Stop learning Portuguese and be the annoying foreigner who doesn’t learn the language or just suck it up and buy expensive drinks that I mostly enjoy and learn at the same time?

I am just burdened with real problems.

Locked in an IKEA bathroom

So, we are checking out of the IKEA, just outside of Lisbon, and Maggie, my 11 year old, has to go the bathroom. My dad says that he will take her. Fine. Good plan. We wait in what seems like an endless line up; we check out. Next, we buy some treats at the Swedish food store and I finally realize that Maggie and my dad haven’t returned from the WC. Just as I go to look for them, Maggie comes running towards me. Her face is red. She had clearly been crying. My dad’s face was red. He had clearly been laughing.

Apparently, Maggie went in the stand alone wheelchair bathroom, actually called a ‘deficient bathroom’ in Portuguese. She locked the door and when she went to get out, she couldn’t. My dad was waiting at the door and he heard her screaming and then trying to kick the door down. He calmly, through his laughter, tried to coach her, but to no avail.  Panic had set in.  Security was called and the door was opened. That should be the end of the story, for a normal family. We are not a normal family.

Pippa and my mom decided they needed to go the bathroom too.  Maggie, mustering courage, said she would take them to the bathroom.  She took them to the same wheelchair bathroom.  Each one did their business and then Maggie tried to open the door.  Nothing.  Then Pippa tried.  Nothing.  Then my mom tried and she still couldn’t get it.  Meanwhile, my dad, brother and I are sitting on a bench very nearby.  My priest husband, had left to go to the customer service counter to deal with a discrepancy in our bill.

My dad, brother and I notice the door being kicked from the inside and we start to laugh.  Not the chuckle kind of laugh…the one that makes you stop breathing.  The gasping for air kind of laughter.   We hear Maggie yelling help, repeatedly.  Then we see this woman passing by…a Good Samaritan.   She puts her ear to the door.  We hear my mom say, that they are stuck.  I kid you not, by this time I was doubled over in laughter.

The Good Samaritan rushes away and still we hear the calls for help and the kicks at the door. My dad, through tears of laughter, asks me if I am going to help them.  The truth was, I couldn’t remember the last time anything made me laugh more, and I laugh often.  I had to watch the scene play out for longer.

Less than three minutes later, the Good Samaritan returns.  She tells them that she had contacted security.  My brother, who had to look away from the scene because he said he thought he would faint from laughter, just starting crying, “she contacted security.”  This was the end for us.  The thought of my mom and two daughters unable to open a European door and thus trapping themselves in the bathroom, brought me endless joy.

Then my priest joins us.  He sees us in laughter pain.  Tears streaming down our faces.  He wants in on the joke.  When I tell him, he is horrified that we didn’t try to help them.  I tell him that if he moves a muscle, I will kill him in his sleep.  This was pure gold.

Just then, the security guard shows up.  He knocks on the bathroom door and he opens the door up.  My mom and daughters emerge.  They look unimpressed.  They see us all laughing.  They all insist that the door would not open.  Some invisible lock must have been activated.  It wouldn’t budge.  In their defense, the security guard did mess with the door afterwards…doing what, I cannot say.  All I know for sure, is that today was a good day.  This will warm my heart for a long time to come.