I know you love hearing my quippy voice (says the ridiculously humble writer over here,) but this post is gonna be mostly a vomiting of photos because there are just too many damn good ones from this past week!!
We spent the girls' midterm break in the Azores - or the Açores, if you're in the local cool kid club, which clearly we are(n't...please don't ask me how my Portuguese language classes are going...)
Anyway... The Azores is a set of nine volcanic islands off the coast of Portugal. I know, I never knew that either. High School geography majorly failed me. I digress... We landed on the biggest one, São Miguel, and were immediately blown away. Like, hearts-as-eyes gazing over its insane beauty.
We planned the trip with our new friends, team Kismarton (yay new friends who were SO fun to travel with!!), so it felt only appropriate to rent a car that would fit all nine of us. Because nothing says vacay like a party van!
I'll do my best to be brief with our plethora of awesome activities. Starting with kayaking volcanic-craters-turned-lakes. Ummm..say wha??
Visiting multiple different hot springs, including a brown one that made us all a bit nervous and turned our bathing suits baby-poop-color. But that didn't stop the girls from putting their heads under water and making a game out of blindly trying to not run into strangers' legs. And yes, almost a week later and the girls still have brown clay in their hair. But hey, all worth it for those healing minerals, eh?
Including an insanely cool natural hot spring in the ocean!! Never have I ever.
We tried to do this on our second day there, but the tide was too high and there was no way anyone could've safely gotten in. So, we made it an "early" morning activity later on to get there during low tide.
Milking goats... nuff said...
Some great hiking to see quite possibly the most beautiful overlook known to man. Challenge me.
Growing up with a mom who doubles as a killer designer, I'll never forgot how we'd say something like, "it's so green!" And she'd respond, "Yes, but how many shades of green do you see?"
And that's all I could keep thinking about in the Azores. So. many. shades. of green. (p.s. that lake? yeah... it's a volcanic crater.)
Good eats, including a pot full of food cooked directly in one of the volcanic hot spots, because when in Rome...err..The Azores.
More good eats courtesy of a local couple with a totally off-the-grid, sustainable farmette, We went there one day for fondue, and loved it so much, we took our friends back for a whole dinner. It did not disappoint.
And of course, we brought the costume bag (Bill's brilliant idea.) Since it rained a fair chunk of the time while we were there, the costumes made for the perfect afternoon activity.
So there you have it. The Azores in a nutshell. Five stars, would definitely recommend. I'd also give ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ to team Kismarton. We all know traveling is a make-or-break moment in any relationship, and I think I can safely say, we're ready to get more serious.
And now, a few more of those photos I promised you (yet another reason our friends were great travel companions... they took great pics!)
And remember, how many shades of green can you see??
We've been known to show up for Halloween.
And so, I can't lie when I say I've been feeling a bit nervous about what our first big holiday outside of the States would feel like.
I started prepping the girls about a month ago. We all knew Halloween was going to look a bit different this year. For one thing, it's not a widely recognized holiday in Portugal. There would be no trick-or-treating (although I'd sort of love to see the looks on people's faces if we showed up at their door at night in costume demanding candy...) We considered throwing our own party in the old, presumably-haunted building across the street from our house, but that didn't make it past a ghost of an idea (har har.)
And so, it all came down to the costumes. While I'm not a seamstress by any stretch of the imagination, I do love dusting off the ol' sewing machine when it comes to Halloween costumes. You see, Halloween costumes are a different monster (I'm on a roll.) Nobody bats (somebody stop me) an eye if the stitches are all wonky - in fact, the wonkier the better for this holiday. And the outfits only need to hold together for 24 hours, give or take. Which is perfect for me! I mean, if my resume were to include a list of my sewing skills, "wonky stitches," and "falls apart within a day" would definitely be at the top of that list.
But here's the thing: Making costumes also requires confidence. Confidence in your sewing tools. Confidence in your mediocre sewing abilities. Confidence in which craft stores you can find what materials. Confidence that if you're having a hard time locating said materials, you can ask a store associate for help.
Guess what doesn't exist in Portugal? That's right… all of the above. That's not to say sewing tools and craft stores don't exist here - I'm sure they do. I just don't know how to navigate it all. In Colorado, I could've driven to Michaels blindfolded, stayed blindfolded as I ran to aisle 3 for the exact right fabric, and driven back home all in record time (I know, I know...the dangers of being blindfolded while picking out fabric is a safety hazard I shouldn't joke about.) But here in Portugal, I still can't even walk to the bathroom in the middle of the night without stubbing my toe on the corner of the bed.
And while my 2.5-months in Portugal have gained me the knowledge to say to the store clerk "I do not need a sack, I brought my own thanks," that doesn't help when trying to ask where to find the fake blood in Portuguese.
So, I knew our costumes would be more limited this year. Luckily, Bill had the wherewithal to encourage the girls to pack a full duffel bag full of their dress-up clothes to bring from Colorado, so we had a few items to work with. And here's where we ended up:
Using one of my old prom dresses and a handful of trips to Claire's for some bling, Quincy channeled Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's era. Side note: I've learned that Claire's is quite possibly the most comforting place to me in all of Portugal. Not kidding. At first I figured it'd be the one and only Starbucks in the area, but the coffee tastes different and they don't give me lids for my drinks, so... but the Claire's! It's exactly like any Claire's in any mall in any state! Buy 3 pairs of earrings, get 3 for free! Just like home! And that's how I've become the creepy lady who loiters at the Claire's on homesick days.
Olive opted for a more traditional costume this year. In the States, anything goes costume-wise. Butterfly? Yes! Life-sized M&M? Sure, why not. Man-riding-blow-up-horse? Absolutely. But in Portugal, kids stick to the basics: skeletons, witches, devils... Olive took it one step more bougie (bougier?) and went as an Enchantress, using a dress we found at a little costume shop that took way too long Google searching its location. Topped off with her badass attitude, some face gems, fake nails, and a killer cloak all courtesy of *ahem* Claire's, she crushed the look.
(I swear I'm not getting paid to promote Claire's today, but if they'd like to send me a gift card, I wouldn't mind the excuse to come hang at their shop more.)
Per usual, Pearl was the most decisive about her costume. She decided right away to be Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas. A girl after my own heart. We had the perfect dress in our costume duffel bag (that I originally purchased for a hula hoop dance retreat I went on years ago... another story entirely...) I knew the key to her costume would be the hair, which made me giddy with excitement. Maybe I would get to homemake something after all! And really, how hard can finding the materials and making a yarn wig actually be?
To answer that question, please use my first attempt as your guide. Turns out hot glue is not the right way to attach yarn to...well, anything.
(and yes... I was using a pickle jar as my model. What's it to you?)
But, after a second trip to the local Chinese Bazaar (where it's even harder to ask for help finding anything since they speak strictly Portuguese and - you guessed it, Chinese there,) I landed on pure brilliance if I do say so myself. A baby-sized red beanie, red yard, and a crochet hook. That's right - I crocheted a yarn wig for my child. While sitting in the shopping mall food court nonetheless (after visiting Claire's.)
Because, you see - Portugal isn't like the States. You can't just go sit at a coffee shop for an entire day and putz around on your computer or whatever. As a writer, I actually feel a little lost without that option. But yesterday, I was pressed for time. I had to get this wig started asap, and figured they couldn't kick me out of a food court, right? Now that I'm revisiting it all, it's got me thinking that maybe I'll start setting up camp there to write... man, that'd make for some interesting stories I bet...
And I have to say, I'm quite proud of the result. Dressing up for school went off without a hitch this morning (although Bill and I were admittedly sad we didn't have the reason to dress up ourselves.) AND, 2/3 of the girls won their classroom costume contests! So score one for us!
We can't wait to see your costumes and live vicariously through pictures of your bags and bags of trick-or-treated candy. In the meantime, we miss you. We love you. Feliz Halloween, meus amigos!
Here we are, almost a month into our leap to Portugal. There have been a hundred and one blog posts I've written in my head, and even a handful that partially made it down on paper, but instead of posting any of them, I've focused my energy this past month on trying to figure out if these are chicken nuggets or fish nuggets...?
I would assume chicken, based on the picture, but that Capitao Iglo up top has me really wondering. And yes, I know I could just pull up my Google Translate (thanks to 11-year old Quincy for showing me how to navigate that app...I'm getting too old for this,) but what fun is that? Instead, I've literally spent the last three weeks with this bag in my tiny European freezer wondering what the hell I purchased on my very first Portuguese grocery run.
An abbreviated list of some of the other things here that I haven't figured out yet:
1. Don't get me wrong - our house here is truly special. Clean, plenty of natural light, and a three-minute walk to the beach, topped off with this view:
So yeah, our house is straight-up awesome. If you have 13 minutes to kill and want the full tour of it, given by 7-year old Pearl, here it is. You're welcome.
But, for as great at it is, I still have no idea why there are mirrors everywhere.
...and I mean everywhere...
There are also creepy statue babies crawling up our outside wall...
But whatever nightmares that gives us, they're all canceled out by how stunning it is here. Like, truly. I'll do a picture dump at the bottom of the post, just to prove it.
2. The language barrier is real. Sure, most people here speak at least some level of English and are beyond patient and kind when there's a language gap, but that doesn't mean things don't still go wrong. For example, when I tried to get candles for Bill's birthday cake from the Pasteleria. The convo went something like this:
Baker: "How old will he be?"
And that's when he brought out two candles for me.
3. I (Bill) finally found a place that will make me a real iced tea instead of just a can of Lipton tea!!! That in and of itself deserves a round of applause. It's so interesting how even when we find food or brands that seems normal to us, it still tastes quite different. I now frequent grocery stores almost daily, like there's no tomorrow. Partially because our fridge is so dang small, we can only fit enough for a day or two worth of food for all of us. Partially because I'm a nerd and gig out on perusing different grocery stores. But, in large part it's just because I still can't for the life of me find baking soda or measuring cups anywhere (update - a new friend just gifted me both baking soda AND measuring cups!! I'm the happiest person in the world right now!)
So yeah, still figuring things out, but doing it in style and with a smile, as we do. And now, as promised (I know you're eager,) the pictures that say a thousand words:
Olive being called to her water roots. Visiting the beach is an almost-daily practice for us here. Not too shabby.
Visiting castles and palaces and such in Sintra. There's a TON of them, all different and full of history. And check out the tile of that fountain room! Those tiles are on the walls everywhere here, creating a super cool visual anywhere you go.
The girls cooking us dinner for a change at a Portuguese woman's house! We've been loving doing all sorts of Airbnb experiences to get to know the area through locals. From scavenger hunts to cooking classes, it's been an awesome way to explore.
Pearl getting ready to try out her mad pastry skills. We went to this adorable family-owned pastelaria to learn to make the famous Portuguese pastry, Pastel de Nata, from the owner himself!
Picnic time at another Sintra Palace
We capped off the summer - and celebrated Bill's birthday - with some boat time on an overnight to Algarve, the southern most tip of Portugal. Turns out, our boat driver moonlights (err...daylights?) as a cop who patrols the seas for people trying to smuggle drugs in from Africa, so... there's that.
And now, we're onto our next chapter and shifting even further from tourist to local... starting school - complete with uniforms and everything!!
Pearl (2nd grade,) Olive (4th grade,) and Quincy (6th grade.)
Go Tasis Knights!!
Nine 50-pound duffel bags, three carry-ons, and a cat - and we were on our way!
What do you pack for a year-long trip, you ask? ...ask me again in a year because I still have no idea... That didn't stop us from spending our last three weeks going through closets and drawers, wondering what to bring and what to leave behind, though.
"Portugal has shampoo, right?"
"Probably...but do you think it has kids' socks?"
"Ooh, no clue. Better bring three dozen pairs each."
And, here's the thing. I'm sure Portugal does have shampoo. I just haven't found it yet (three days after landing...don't judge...) When talking to different families who've done this type of thing, advice is across the board when it comes to packing. "Don't pack too much." "You can't pack enough." "Ship boxes over." "Just take a backpack and figure it out." "Don't forget Great Aunt Edna's special scarf." I don't have a Great Aunt Edna, but in the bustle of it all, I definitely would have forgotten her scarf.
Anyway, back to the skip across the Atlantic. While it was definitely long, it was also uneventful - which, while not a great word when discussing pretty much anything else in life, is actually the hoped for word to use with airplane rides, right? Gladys put on her big-girl pants and rocked the journey.
The girls put on their big-girl pants and rocked the journey...with the help of our friend, Melatonin. And Bill navigated our bags like a champ.
The strange thing is, nobody cried when we left our home in Boulder like I expected. Nobody asked questions when we had to stop on our way to the airport to get rapid Covid tests because we hadn't gotten results back from the tests we'd taken days earlier. (As luck would have it - we totally got the original test results back as we were waiting for the rapid test results. Because the universe has quite a sense of humor like that.) Nobody hid their faces in embarrassment as it took us more than half an hour just to get all our luggage checked in at the counter. (that's a lie - Quincy was totally embarrassed. To which I say, get used to it kiddo - at 11.5 years old, you've got a lot of being embarrassed by your parents on the horizon!)
But by and large, it just felt like we were going on a little trip. Like we'd be back in a couple of weeks. And I think it has to feel like that in order to actually make these kinds of big leaps, otherwise our poor nervous systems couldn't handle it.
I'm pretty sure the shock will come when - in a couple of weeks, we don't go back to Boulder. But, we'll deal with that when it comes.
For now, we've made it safely to Cascais where it felt pretty damn good to stick our weary 20-hour-travel toes in the sand.
The Flaggs are adventurers. Always have been and always will be. All three girls (Quincy, Olive, and Pearl) had their first passports by the time they were three months old. And let me tell you, trying to get a three-month old to keep her head straight and eyes open for that passport photo is no walk in the park.
You know what else isn't a walk in the park? Deciding to move across the world with three months' worth of notice. Yup, leave it to us to do just that.
We've always imagined what it'd be like to move our family somewhere foreign for a year and do the whole expat thing. Sounds terribly romantic, right? Of course, it's easy to fantasize about an idea like that when you've got three young kids at your heels and it feels like just that: a fantasy.
But, as any parent can attest, time flies. Especially when a year plus is spent locked down in a house navigating a world pandemic, which made everyone and their dog stir-crazy. Well, maybe not the dogs - they all loved the extra attention. But, everybody and their CAT went stir-crazy last year. We (and our cat, Gladys) were no exception.
Which is partially why, in April, this vague shadow of a conversation presented itself again. We blinked and suddenly, our kids actually felt like "the right" ages to do this thing. How was that even possible?? After checking all their birth certificates just to make sure we did indeed have their accurate current ages accounted for, we decided that yes, now was as good a time as any.
I make it sound like it was an easy decision. I can assure you, it was not. Hell, we weren't even completely certain we were going to do this as of a week ago. The thought of leaving great friends, family, comfort, and familiarity is daunting, to say the least.
...never mind the fact that there's still a world pandemic very much going on... that's a whole different post. But I will say this: we're definitely not being flippant about that piece of the puzzle (I'm saying this in my most serious voice for your peace of mind, my darling loved ones!)
Okay. Got that out of the way. Turning off my serious voice and stepping back into my story-telling pants. Ahem.
Once upon a time (three months ago,) we knew we wanted to live someplace outside of the US, but we didn't know where exactly. And, our list of options ran the gamut - from New Zealand to Switzerland. Australia to Italy. Spain to Costa Rica. Just kidding. We never considered Costa Rica, but now I'm wondering why not...
Here was our criteria as we explored possibilities. I'll give you a brief play-by-play as to how we landed on Portugal:
- Someplace with a great expat (foreign residents) community. Check! Portugal is booming with expats right now thanks to the country really inviting that culture in.
- Someplace not too big. We're small town mice. Cascais (outside of Lisbon) is about the same size as Boulder. Check check!
- Someplace with a personality-rich international school for the girls. This was the first piece of the puzzle for me. Once I found this school, everything else seemed trivial. A big check check check!
- Someplace with vegetarian food options for the mama. Sorry to say it, Europe, but you're still not that veggie-friendly. No offense. I mean, not that I don't love abiding by a diet of strictly bread and cheese when I visit you for a couple weeks, but let's be honest... that wouldn't end well after an entire year. Maybe it's silly, but I wanted to make sure I'd have more than just chicken fingers, hold the chicken as an option when we went out to dinner. Well, lo and behold, did you know Portugal is the first country in the world that legally requires every restaurant to have a vegan option on their menu?? Amazing what a little research can find you. Five bonus points to Portugal! Check check...you get the point...
- Someplace with lots of nature and culture for the dada. Anyone who's even seen a single picture of Portugal can say with confidence this exists there.
Of course, I gave away the punchline a long time ago. Rookie move, Story-teller... Let's act excited about the revelation together anyway: PORTUGAL! Portugal is the answer!
Had we ever been to Portugal? No. Do any of us speak Portuguese? Also no. Did we have joint lucid dreams about how we were meant to move to Portugal and then wake up with a choir of angels singing "Por-tu-gallll!" over our heads? Well...sadly also no. But, we chose the country anyway. Because as our favorite green witch says, you've got to trust your instinct, close your eyes and leap!!!
If you'll excuse me for a minute, I think I feel a show tune coming on.
Okay, I'm back (she says while setting her broom down next to her on the counter.)
The bottom line is, it's happening! We're moving across the Atlantic in a mere week and a half. I spent the last two weeks packing up our house for our renters. No, I haven't actually packed any bags for the trip yet. Minor details. And hey, on the plus side - as of five days ago, we've finally secured a house to live in over there! Three cheers for not being homeless! If you can't tell, it's a bit of a fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants moment, but if you really think about it, that's more often than not how things tend to pan out anyway in this crazy little thing called life - whether we like it or not. Better to roll with it than resist it, eh? Am I just telling myself this to try to stay upright these next ten days? Maybe don't answer that...
Nah, I really am feeling okay about it all. We've got this! And if/when we don't, we'll ride those waves and figure it out together as a family! At least the human part of our family will... poor Gladys the cat has no idea she's about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime... I'm sure she'd use different verbiage if she knew how.
Wish Gladys (and us) luck!