West Coast.

#12 The value of things

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Patrícia Mota
Patrícia Mota

Anyone who knows Rodrigo knows that it's hard to find a more optimistic and positive person, and that even in extreme situations he manages to maintain his judgment and serenity.

I often wake Rodrigo up to organize my thoughts. And not only does he not get angry with me, he actually manages to calm me down and fall asleep as soon as I thank him.

We had decided to bet big on Christmas and spend it with our beloved family in Chicago, taking the opportunity to visit another part of our beloved family in Canada, and to make up for the homesickness of the season.

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We continually sell the idea of home being wherever we are together, and our children buy into this idea most of the time, but Christmas is about family.

The international family enthusiastically organized to welcome us at 7 both in Chicago and Canada, and we bought the trips convinced that despite being a very expensive time of year, the value of Christmas as a family was well worth the investment.

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A few days before our flight, after dinner, Rodrigo and my father were getting everything in order (bags and check-ins), and I started to hear Rodrigo take deep breaths. Several times in a row.

Heavy air:"I find the payment confirmation, the reservation, but I can't find the tickets...the reservation says pending and I can't go ahead to buy more bags or check in..."I take on the role of the serene woman convinced that everything will work out.

I called United, who repeated that the payment had been canceled and that they couldn't help. Rodrigo and my father went to United at the airport to try to understand and unblock the situation.

It seems that the virtual card had a problem with the system, they returned the payment for the tickets 9 days after we bought them, without any warning or notification from either the bank or United. We didn't realize this, and the solution was to buy 7 flights again, the day before Christmas Eve.

Needless to say, the price of the tickets, which wasn't already a bargain, tripled in these conditions.

Desperate and desolate, Rodrigo returned home, and although he had no responsibility in this process, he took responsibility for ruining Christmas and everyone's expectations and didn't sleep.

Unlike me, instead of waking me up, he sent 327 messages to Uncle Nuno at dawn, who jumped out of bed in a time zone further ahead in Chicago, and started pulling strings more powerful than the gentlemen at the airport.

When I woke up before 6 a.m., and before we spoke to the cousins in Chicago, he told me: "I'd rather be the shonen who takes on the cost of travel at unfair prices, than the shonen who didn't put the pieces together in time and ruined Christmas for everyone. Can I buy the flights? Will you let me?" Poor Rodrigo!

I accepted the pact, and we came to start the day, shrunken by yet another mega expense, but with the prospect of Christmas again.

At the end of the day, after much debate with the lady from United, and after Uncle Nuno managed to confirm all my children's surnames (like royalty!), she told us that it was done and that we already had our first booking again, available and at the original price! All I could think to say was, the next time they're mean to us, I'll threaten to call Uncle Nuno and you'll see! When my parents woke up and we told them it was sorted, they couldn't believe it!

I still laughed a few hours later with Cacau, who told me that Nuno had jumped out of bed very early saying, "I've got to go because their flight is going wrong", and by breakfast everything was under control again. I have to say, great boss!

It cost us a few more gray hairs and perhaps Rodrigo's first insomnia, but we managed to turn things around and board our flight to Chicago on time.

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I have the distinct feeling that this Universe has been treating us very well indeed.

Despite all the troubles, everything is working out, fortunately.

For 2024, please keep it that way. If there's no need for more gray hair, that's fine too! just saying!...

We arrived in Chicago in the early hours of Christmas Eve, and after a lot of emotions and hugs, the house was not only warm and with our favorite people inside, but it also smelled like Bolo Rei. Obviously, I got emotional.

We all went to rest and the next few hours were pure delight.

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Children and the like in preparation, conversations to catch up on all at the same time, the hustle and bustle of the last parcels, and the usual rush to make sure we look like jetsetters, all heading for Kenocha to join several Portuguese families.

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They welcomed us so well that we felt at home. An incredible house, I must say!

And we had dinner in the most beautiful and well-decorated library (great Cacau!) I've ever seen.

Easy conversation (and in Portuguese!) Interesting and friendly people in equal proportions, tasting codfish and other delicacies, and all the desserts that should be in a Portuguese house, of course!

In addition to the exchange of gifts for the children, there was also Karaoke... the best!

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We went home and slept well, and Christmas Day was just as I remember it from years ago.

No clock, cousins in sauce (I miss the ones we couldn't squeeze), walks to accommodate another sweet, good conversation, movies, and future plans.

It should always be like this, but with everyone, brothers, grandparents, uncles and cousins. And if you could squeeze friends, then that's what!

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Matias was given a tie with dogs on it, and not only did he put it on without protest, but in the days after Christmas, even over his pyjamas he would put it on before going to the toilet.

He received a number of right gifts. This was clearly one of them.

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The next day we headed to Chicago Down Town. The charm of Christmas, the freshness of the city and the group tour made me love Chicago even more than the last time I was here.

It's really worth a visit.

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And since there were no snowstorms in the meantime, we headed to London, Canada to join Monica. In this house, in addition to the emotions and tight hugs, there was also the smell of rice pudding. I've always had a thing about smells. And here, too, it smelled like home.

A good time, soup that made it into the top three soups of the Mota Barona family, Matias wondering which language to choose with Augusto, and after a few attempts we saw him comfortable on the sofa alternating English naturally with his cousin, Spanish with his father, and Portuguese with the others. All pronunciations impeccable. And even though we were aware of it from the comments at school, experiencing this seemingly effortless exchange of languages up close is nevertheless humbling.

The day we arrived, I was able to see where the magic of the Monica in her studio. It reminded me of the times when I was happy to accompany favorite people to the Faculty of Fine Arts in Lisbon, and I was impressed by my cousin's creativity.

The photographs don't do justice to the transparencies and the movement he manages to create in each work. What pride...

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After a rest, we were able to visit London, Port Stanley and we ended up taking a light tour of the woods... magical!

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The next day we headed to Niagara Falls. The amount of moving water, the sound and the landscape in general are incredible. Despite high expectations, we were impressed.

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We realized that there was a butterfly garden nearby, and Matias, who had heard the guide's explanation, wouldn't shut up. Good...

We entered a giant greenhouse where thousands of butterflies live (they are protected and very important for the ecosystem) and we had the privilege of having them land on us. Maria was the first and we were so excited that we all screamed for her to make a wish! And Maria replied, "Oh, I wasn't expecting that! I've got a few and I don't know which one to choose now! It's stressful!

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We said goodbye to our cousins in Canada with full hearts and a bit of a squeeze. We loved being able to come. And we miss them already.

We headed back to Chicago to prepare for the last days of the year. And contrary to all the forecasts, it snowed! Since we're new to extreme temperatures, it was the snowfall of the year for us! It turns out that the locals didn't even wrap up too warmly!

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A movie landscape and the cutest, friendliest dog (not counting Mel, of course), Tucker, who doesn't understand exactly why he's so excited.

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We were able to peek into the Home Alone house, we became fans of Lake Forest and its surroundings...

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...and we went back down town, where there were still some checks to be done...

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We love Chicago more and more, and despite the bitter cold, we've fallen in love with this city.

The end of the year, taking stock, talking to the four corners of the world, literally, wishing for health and peace on a loop, giving thanks, and trying not to get grapes in the way of every wish. I've adopted the Spanish tradition, but it's very challenging to process 12 juicy grapes in 12 chimes.

The spirit and excitement are high. I hope the energy continues throughout 2024.

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The first few days of the year couldn't have been better.

I was even able to take some notes on how to deal masterfully with girls/women/teenagers/university students and their friends. My Cacau is pro at managing anything and everything, but I confess that what I'd really like when I grow up is to have the same relationship with my daughters that she's managed to build.

How lucky we are.

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The only part that's hard are the goodbyes... But if they are, it can only be for good reason.

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And we flew back to Seal Beach with at least one absolute certainty.

The best cousins are mine. And the value of things...

Reis Magos in transit, Mel returned home after spending the holidays with one of my dear students, Grandma São presented us with the Bolo Rei, we followed the videos sent by the abuelos, and with everything in place we watched the Cavalcade on deferred transmission.

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The Magi don't disappoint and the only part that's hard is being away from the place where the magic really happens. And at this time of year, everyone starts to feel homesick. The abuelos are the big winners when it comes to homesickness in general and Matias in particular.

As a local diversion, after the arrival of the kings, I booked surprise tickets to go and support my university's basketball team.

I explained to my children that the players weren't exactly my pupils, but that they studied at my school.

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I watched an NBA game many years ago. The show is very similar, they just miss a bit more, which is fun and gets the heart racing.

And the three of them immediately took on the role of super-fans and supporters to try and distract their opponents, who were getting dangerously close to a draw. And enthusiastically applauding every basket. In the end, "my students" CSULB narrowly beat University Riverside, and Matias asked "did our moms win?" Hilarious.

Before the start of the second half of the year, we managed to use up the last few days of our vacation along the California coast to San Diego and promised to return soon.

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And these two months with the grandparents, when I'm sure we all sometimes chose peace over reason, passed in a flash and were wonderful.

What was difficult was watching grandparents and grandchildren saying goodbye, all in a similar mood of bewilderment.

Boy, what a price to pay for such a wonderful adventure.

But just like Rodrigo's decision on his sleepless night:

"O valor das coisas não está no tempo que elas duram, mas na intensidade com que acontecem. Por isso existem momentos inesquecíveis, coisas inexplicáveis e pessoas incomparáveis."

Hugs to all of you, I miss you so much.

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