Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Trying to See the Big Picture

2008...

This was such a crazy year that I'm having a hard time looking at it objectively. For some reason I just don't seem to be able to see the big picture this time, so immersed that I am in the little things that have been bothering me lately.

I feel kind of numb. Everything is well (apart from my dread of the online teaching gig), this was a year full of good things (and its fair share of craziness and turmoil), but I just don't seem to feel that there's any spark to any of it.

As we become older, at least that's what I have been experiencing in the past several years, we become more and more rational and less emotional and "touchy feely." And moments such as Christmas and New Year's Eve that in the past -- particularly in my childhood and teenage years -- were filled with nostalgia and melancholic musings are now nearly meaningless. And I don't really seem to care! I don't like to feel numb! I've always been such an enthusiastic person. I don't much like this person that I've become :-(.

The problem is, I feel, is that there is no time, to pursue the things that I am passionate about, the things that bring "spark" to life. There are many responsibilities, taking care of the kids, the house, hosting parties, shopping, answering the phone even (I had to do that four times while trying to write this post!).

So, this post is a lame attempt to look back at the year that passed and try to infuse some "spark" into my numb self.

I should be happy, shouldn't I, that I finished the PhD, too bad I keep on thinking on how it's not really "useful" to me (except in the nightmare of the online gig, which one could do even with an master's).

I am indeed extremely thankful for all the home renovations, because we have new siding, brand new roof, nice tiled bathrooms. That made me happy yesterday when we were looking at two spectacular "model homes" in our friends' neighborhood. I don't much mind looking at this fancy shower when I know that mine at home is beautiful, if small ;-).

I am glad that K is no longer working at Big Pharma and is excited (if tired by the long commute) with his work at the university and I am enjoying immensely my work at the school -- the most relaxing job I've ever had! (is that an indication that I should continue being involved with elementary school education?)

what else... we had a lovely Christmas with family. We traveled a lot -- to Brazil, to Boston/Cambridge, to MA a few times, now to Florida.

My youngest nephew was born!! My brother moved to New Zealand. My grandma is now resting in peace. We celebrated 14 years of marriage in great style.

Many many things (I'll come back to include links).

Most important of all, we're healthy, and happy, and together. That's the most important thing of all!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Blunders

From the past weeks/month(s), varying degrees of seriousness:

Weather
(12/21) Not having checked the weather forecast (light snow, turning into a mix and freezing rain) and leaving both cars outside overnight when we had been leaving them in the garage for weeks every single night... Good thing we only had to clean one of the cars that morning to go out to IKEA.

Washer
This one was really really upsetting for me:
Remember that over two weeks ago (12/11) we had an appointment with the Sears technician to look at our washer? Well... I missed that one, because they didn't have my cell phone (K had scheduled it and not given my cell #) and I thought that being 5 minutes away at school wouldn't be a problem because I'd left a sign at the door with my number for the technician -- ha! They call when they're on their way to one's home, not from one's front door! :-( Much despair ensued, and I was able to schedule another appointment only for Friday (11/19), the day we were coming back from our anniversary trip (and had snow on the way back, more on that later).

The biggest blunder of all, though, was scheduling these visits at all! It was sad to waste a perfectly good 79 dollars just to be told the obvious: that we needed a new washer :-(. The technician sad that these machines last only 7 years on average. Ours was going to be 8 in February. We talked a bit about how manufactured goods don't last long the way they did 20-30 years ago and he shared an anecdote about a friend of his who worked for GE and told him that these appliances are meant to break after a certain period (top loaders apparently only last 8-9 years as well). Isn't that sad that this "consumer society" has gotten to this point? Things are made not to last on purpose so we have to go buy more things! I think that is absolutely outrageous!!!

We couldn't make it to the store the day after the technician's visit, so on Sunday 12/21, my husband made the purchase, minutes before the stores closed. Our new washer (bigger and better than the old one) was delivered on the 23rd and I already used it then. I'm pretty happy about it, although we really didn't have the money. Good thing there's a whole year to pay (interest free).

Online gig
Ongoing in the past month:
Posting feedback late in the online teaching gig, either because I forgot I had to grade certain assignments within 48h (after a crazy grading jag, staying up half or all night after grading all day long), or miscalculated how long it was going to take to grade and give students feedback. The result is that there are 4 more weeks of this class and at this point I am failing and if I turn in anything else late I may not be permanently hired. Sigh. So much stress! I really can't stand the fact that I desperately need this "marginal" job because of the (little) money right now :-( . I think I'd be better off adjuncting. I should go email CCs, colleges and universities RIGHT NOW, shouldn't I? I need to be more proactive about this and I will, after the latest bad news.

Health Insurance situation (last couple of months):
Because I've been so busy and stressed out with the online gig, I was delayed in submitting my sons' application for the state sponsored health insurance and now they will probably be without insurance for the whole month of January until the application is processed. :-( I know that they can pay any retroactive bills that we have during this period, but still, I am mad at myself for letting that happen! I still need to mail the necessary documentation, BTW, when we get back home.

K included me in his insurance, but it will cost over 300! :-( We will still pay for the boys (50-60 a month for each), but that's less than the over 300 that we'd have to pay the university for them too. I feel sick to my stomach to think that I "wasted" over 3 thousand dollars paying 100+ a month for an extremely high deductible plan for me which I never ever used, not even for check ups, before K was hired by Big Pharma last year. I guess I prefer to be paying more now so I can go to the doctor, dentist, etc. regularly from now on on K's "good" insurance.

Sorry for the negativity... But I wanted to get this post out, things will be brighter here soon (literally). :-)

From Florida!!!

After many hours driving (11+ from Richmond, VA to South of Jacksonville), we arrived here on Friday night and it's been lovely to experience the warm weather. Hopefully, I'll post some pictures soon, but, like they say on NPR, first the news... (or a quick update).

- We had a lovely time during Christmas with our in-laws, BIL's family and a last minute addition: my husband's cousin (whom we hadn't seen for 14 years, since the time we first met) and his wife, who were visiting the U.S. for the very first time. Unfortunately there was a lot of shopping involved (both on Monday and Tuesday), but we had a lovely time for about 20h between Christmas Eve and Day before we all went our separate ways (in-laws to MA, cousin to NJ) around 2 pm on the 25th.

- We had a late start to Richmond, VA (6 pm) and an even later time going to bed because we were talking to our friends there who are planning to return to Brazil soon after living many years here in the U.S. (tough situation). We didn't leave until 11 am on Friday on our way here...

After many days out of the loop I finally spent sometime tonight reading some blogs and trying to catch up. That online gig is not leaving me any time for that (more on this later). Anyway, i do have to go to bed now, however...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Nay/ "Neguei"

(only my BIL/SIL and maybe some Brazilian readers will understand the second part of the title, it's a slangy expression that means "negative" or "[I've been] denied something" or "something went wrong")

In fact, I would be shocked (if thrilled) if it were a "yay" instead of a nay, but it was only predictable that I wouldn't get in. The email I received states that there were over 300 applications for the postdoctoral fellowship I applied to. It's only natural I wasn't one of the 5 "lucky" ones. Whatever. Hopefully this doesn't reflect on the quality and value of the work of 295 of us. It only means that graduate schools HAVE GOT TO STOP ACCEPTING PHD CANDIDATES ALREADY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Or, obviously, misguided souls like myself have to stop applying or, get the degree and go back to our home countries already (it is true that I would have an academic job there, although I hearsay that most higher education institutions that can are firing all their PhDs and hiring people with Master's degrees instead -- in Brazil the salary for the various levels of teaching jobs are regulated by a national teacher's union, so people with doctorates have to earn more, so they become undesirable).

I think that slowly but surely I am giving up any and all sliver of hope of ever becoming an academic. I will always be in the margins, if anywhere near the ever more disgusting "Ivory tower." I actually feel like really giving up for good this time and never even thinking about my dissertation and submitting any other papers for publication or presentation... Not going to the conference at Harvard in May (I will, though, since I was the one who had the idea to invite my friend to co-chair a panel). What a WASTE of ten years of my life, in a sense... good thing at least I had a splendid excuse to just stay home with my boys and have my parents come and help us for 24 months...

What a nice Xmas present, no? I'm glad last year we really had a live-saving gift, right on our anniversary (that we celebrated last week, but it's the subject for another post! :-).

OK, enough of ranting.

On other news, my grandma's funeral will be this afternoon at 5 pm. I hope to talk to my parents on the phone later today. My uncle (the one who lives in D.C.) just called me. It was nice talking to him.

I have to go back to cleaning the house. K just picked up his parents at the airport and is coming home. I have to prepare lunch too. Hopefully I'll have more time to blog later. There is another post about some "blunders" that was ready to be published when I heard about Grandma's passing. She was lucid to the very end and only her daughter (the one who's lived with her since 1979) was with her, my uncle told me.

1912 (or 1910) to 2008

1912 (or 1910) to 2008

I don't have any grandparents anymore. My vovó Olivia Diva died tonight, less than an hour ago. My mom just emailed us the news from grandma's house. She is resting now, and she passed away peacefully at home, the way the family wanted and probably she did too, although she was clinging to life and didn't want to die. Most of us don't.

Some previous posts about my grandmother and my dad's family here, here, and there.

I am sad, but I knew it was coming, I just didn't think it would happen so quickly. My other grandmother also died while I was far away, back in 1997, only seven months after our arrival in this country. I wish I could be with my parents right now. Good thing I will see them in only three weeks (I'm going to Brazil for a few days in January).

I just hope that now that grandma is no longer here that the serious conflicts in my dad's side of the family don't erupt all of a sudden and that all legal and financial matters pertaining to the family can be resolved in a civil and peaceful manner in honor of vovó. This is what I will be thinking and praying about now. As for vovó Olivia, she is resting in peace now, with no more pain and suffering. And what remains of her will be laid down to rest beside my grandfather, who preceded her precisely 30 years and a couple of months ago.

Both of them will be only a few hundred feet away from my maternal grandparents' resting place, in the same grassy cemetery where, back in 1986, I saw the slanted late afternoon sun shine on my beloved Vovô Passos's face, as they opened his casket for one last goodbye before lowering it down, close to the earth. I remember filling my hand with dry, dusty soil, and dropping it into the grave.

From dust we come, and to dust we shall return.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Quick Update on my Grandma -- The TIme is Coming

My parents traveled South from the Sao Paulo countryside to Curitiba last Thursday and they have been with my grandma a few times. They and my other two aunts are trying to help the younger aunt who has been caring for grandma 24/7 for many intensive weeks (not to mention many many years).

My mom emailed me earlier today and said that grandma is clinging to life, but she is probably going this time. The sentence that stood out in that email was their realization that that "spark" in her eye is gone. Now that she's off the antibiotics she's more lucid, but she is extremely weak.

I just talked to mom and dad on the phone and they said that they will probably call with bad news soon. They talked to her doctor today after he visited her at home and he explained that her blood pressure is quite low and that there could be hope only if it went back up. She is no longer eating and is on a diet of liquids.

The most important thing is that they've been able to keep her home. My parents asked for us to pray that she may go painlessly.

I'm so sad... I'm just crying now. How special it was that the last time we were together we talked about breastfeeding and I nursed Linton for one of the last times before we weaned...

I'll let you know when she goes. Thanks in advance for your support and sympathy.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"Things Are Gonna Get Easier"

Phew... I just posted weekly feedback for last week for one of my classes and I'm so relieved that I'm doing it earlier for the first time! (I've been doing it on Sunday -- the last possible day).

And last night, for the first time, grading took less than 4-5 hours, I think I graded one assignment for a whole class in under 2h, perhaps less than 1h30.

Sorry to be boring you to tears with my whining and posting about this new gig. It looks like I should stick with it since the future looks bleak for so many people now, right? I should be grateful for my jobs, whatever they are...

In spite of that, I'm creating a new label for my work related posts -- "Working in the Margins" [question -- should it be "on the margins"? should margins be singular? What do you think?] . I may change it someday, but for now, this is it... elementary school teaching, online teaching, are really the "margins" as far as academia is concerned. I'm happy, though.

Now I have to go to bed since "tomorrow" (already today) I have to get ready to go on the very first getaway with K since the kids were born. YAY!

Monday, December 15, 2008

I Stayed Up All Night...

... grading. And even then I was late posting the weekly feedback. And I still have a load of assignments to grade that were due yesterday.

It's a nightmare this mercenary job that I took, a veritable nightmare. I just cannot grade fast enough and their emphasis is on doing things in their schedule, not on the students. I am sure that it's more important to them that I return the feedback (even if it's nothing really) on time, than giving significant feedback. I made a conscious decision to enjoy my guests on Saturday night and then I rested a bit on Sunday morning... and, stupid, I thought that if I started grading mid-afternoon I'd be done before 2 am... ahahaha... Impossible.

OK, I can hardly sound coherent. I need to take a nap before I go back to grading. And I don't even want to look at my mentor's email,... I can tell that she won't have good things to say about my delay... OK, I really have to go catch some zzs now... but I'll be back later. Hopefully not up all night AGAIN. :-(

Saturday, December 13, 2008

When the Tables Turn

You know, this economic crisis doesn't inspire any fear whatsoever in me. First, of course, there's the confidence (and also the faith) that we will be all right, that we will have jobs that will enable us to live and pay the mortgage. And second, there's the fact that we made the right decision as regards to real estate. This house here is not running much risk of depreciation given the huge level lot, its superb location in a desirable neighborhood and stellar school district.

These things are not as relevant in maintaining our peace of mind, I think, as is the fact that K and I were both raised in extreme frugality. It wasn't really poverty, no, and outwardly, as PK's, we almost looked sharp (although I grew up wearing second hand clothes -- I don't mind them to this day, either for me or my sons). But the frugality, the not having any money to spare, not ever eating out, always taking our own food for trips*, "borrowing" our aunts' and uncles' beach houses for vacations, always buying clothes in the cheapest wholesale places in the city of São Paulo** and never ever buying anything at malls, etc. these were the defining things in our childhoods. Frugality and thriftiness just won't ever leave us, I think, and that -- in spite of my half hearted attempts to rebel against it -- is a very good thing.

In a culture of extreme consumerism as the U.S. frugality is frowned upon. "Living within one's means" -- a phrase that has now become ubiquitous was something to be laughed at. New cars used to be a necessity, as were eating out and buying tons of toys and paraphernalia for one's children (please don't get me started on toys, I've had a post literally "boiling" in my mind for years now) . Ha, if I tell you about cars... it'll be an interesting story. I still remember my dad's first car, a yellow VW beetle that he got in 1973 or 4. Most of our family cars (one at a time) were VWs (I guess it's the Germaness in my dad that had him prefer the German maker), all of them used. From 1979 to 1986 we had this bright blue VW Passat that had belonged to my grandfather before my dad bought it from him. The only way my dad was able to get us a "new" used car was taking his vacation and coming to "visit" his brother here in the U.S. (my uncle lives in D.C.) and working with him for a month. Then, we finally had a slightly more modern car.

Well, anyway, what I mean is that now that we're deep in a recession, the tables have turned. Values that my parents painstakingly instilled in me (and which were the norm here in this country less than 50 years ago -- I get that from old people all the time, I, in my "youth" fully identify with them in this respect, all because I was raised in another country) are now being brought back to the forefront. Now, perhaps this is mean spirited of me, but when I listen to people talking about their negative experiences in this time of crisis, such as the woman who was interviewed on NPR saying in tears that Christmas used to be a "huge deal" for her family and this year it's not going to be, I don't pity them. I just think -- this is normal for me, not doing any excesses because I cannot afford certain things.

And the funny thing to an slightly "anti-consumerist" person like me (I'm not even close to what Jo(e) is -- I still buy plenty of things I probably shouldn't be buying) is all this talk that the economy will hurt even more if we don't buy. Sigh. That's why I don't like capitalism. We always need to be buying things we don't need so big shots can make big profits. Sure, I know... the people who make these things need to have a job too. Well, let's put it that way, I don't really like to think about large economic issues. I just can't stand the idea of so few people being so rich and having so much and the majority of people on earth living in such abject poverty. And it frustrates me that I feel so powerless -- I haven't yet been able to find a charity or organization in which our whole family could be involved in helping those in need.

There's so much red tape in some philantropic agencies and charities in this country that I have a feeling that those who really need help don't even contact them. I know that these things need to be regulated so the procedures and the help are done in a fair manner, but still... I understand now why so many people get involved in humanitarian aid in other countries or go on "mission trips." It is easier to feel useful and to really learn from the suffering of other people abroad than at home. But I know that there are countless destitute people all around us, they are just invisible.

OK, I'm going off in a tangent and I should wrap this up. I guess what I wanted to say in this post is that the current situation is providing me much food for thought and a new perspective on the usefulness of thriftiness and frugality. The same things that made feel slightly bad in the past now make me feel pretty good because, hopefully, not buying everything in sight it is going back to vogue -- and I don't really care if it's not good for the economy (sigh). Should I, really?

* We have an interesting expression for this in Brazilian Portuguese -- farofeiro from the food farofa (in old times, chicken and manioc flour, prepared for eating during long trips). I really didn't like belonging to a farofeira family. In Brazil people don't often make picnics or bring their own lunches to eat outdoors at public places like here, so we were always the odd ones out -- e.g. when spending the day at a beach during one of our trips, we ate our lunch sitting on a low wall, next to a city park or square, or next to a parking lot, I don't remember exactly. On car trips we'd always eat boiled eggs, fruit yogurt, fruit, etc...

** Rua Zé Paulino (Zé Paulino Street), Brás, or 25 de Março (March 25 St.) -- places in which many textile factories are based and where one can buy clothes and fabric directly from the manufacturer.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

She's Sick... Again :-(

I knew I had forgotten to include some important things in my previous "tidbits" post, but they might as well be in a separate one, given their sad overtones.

My only surviving grandmother is sick again, and this happened around the same time that she was seriously sick late last year into January this year. This time she has not been hospitalized, though, which is a blessing for the family because she doesn't have insurance and going into a public hospital would just kill her right away, so her children share the costs of hospitalization at an expensive private hospital.

She had a gastrointestinal problem last week, maybe the stomach flu or food poisoning, and things went downhill from there. She is very week from not eating much and confused from the medication. She's suffering from fluid retention and she is doing physical therapy every day so that fluid doesn't accumulate in her lungs like it did almost a year ago. My aunt also paid for years an at home nursing service and they come if needed too. My aunts are doing everything they can so that Grandma may not feel pain and discomfort. She really doesn't want to go to the hospital, so it would be a blessing if she could die peacefully at home if at all possible.

It seems that death doesn't come that easy for people who have lived that long, though. My poor aunt who is single and who has lived with my grandma since grandpa died back in 1978 is stretched thin, she's reaching her limit. Her greatest despair comes when Grandma feels frustrated and says she wants the doctor to give her something so she can just die. That must be just devastating to hear (and to say too).

So, if you pray, keep my aunt and my grandma in your prayers.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

On the other hand, death sometimes comes too quickly as it just happened two days ago with Cleide, an accomplished dressmaker who made many clothes for me, my mom and countless people we know in Brazil. She had a headache, went to bed and didn't wake up -- went straight into a coma. She came to in the hospital, when they diagnosed a huge brain tumor. This happened last week on Tuesday. She was going to have surgery this past Tuesday, but died on Monday night.

Yeah. Just like that. So incredibly shocking. K and I were stunned, particularly because last June, on a day when we went to the notary public to get K to sign a permission so I could return to the U.S. with the kids without him (Brazil requires a notarized permission form), we went to Cleide's house so we could go online and print out a form (she was one of the few people we knew in the town and who we knew would be at home). Having seen her so recently makes her death even more surreal. Well, one could argue that at least it was quick, that she didn't suffer... but this must be hard on the family who couldn't prepare for such a sudden development.

Well, it's hard anyway -- it's been incredibly hard on my aunt to see my grandma waste away so slowly, over a period of so many years. One thing is certain, no matter how/when it happens, death is never something that we naturally accept and feel OK about. [Sigh]

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Tidbits of Life & Stuff

  • Our washer is broken. It was not doing well for a month or so (making a horrible noise when spinning), but it stopped spinning last Thursday. It's a plain Kenmore front-loader that will/would be 8 years old in February . The Sears repair person is coming on Thursday. I just hope we don't need to get a new one :-( . We're already buried in debt, but a washer is an inescapable need!
Parents in-law and brother-in-law's family are coming for Christmas. We'll be together for only 2-3 days, and that makes it more stressful, I think, than a more leisurely week spent together, but they can't come earlier. Maybe one of K's cousins from Brazil will be with us too (he's coming to NYC around this time). We want to travel to Florida after that, starting possibly on Christmas day, but we're still not certain we're going. I hope we do go.
  • Obviously, as one of the greatest procrastinators ever, I still have to go Christmas shopping. Not fun :-(. We're doing a "secret friend" gift exchange in the family, so that will make things easier this year.
My husband heard something on NPR about a Chinese film maker and we're very intrigued about him and his films now. I've already placed the films mentioned in the essay in our Netflix queue. One the things I liked the best in the essay was the writing, which was really good (like in most of NPR's essays and reporting). The connections that John Powers (the author) made between the film's relevance given today's grim economic reality in the last three paragraphs is great.
  • It feels to good to read well written things because I'm being subjected to reading absurdly bad writing in the online gig. I guess that's one of the countless problems with online education -- many students are so ill-prepared that they cannot, by their circumstances, take much from the class. It's so sad! And it takes me just so long to grade these bad assignments. This is one of the reasons why I've felt really overwhelmed by this class and the grading deadlines. This and the feeling that I can never ever relax. Good thing there's a two week winter break.
I have two sets of Christmas tree decorations: in typical colors (red, white and green) and pastel pink and green (I'll post pictures of them in another entry). I think I'm going to go with traditional this year because the theme of several decorations (including the chosen dollar store tableware) is snowmen.
  • The boys urged me to hang lights outside tonight and, taking advantage of the mild weather, I did it with their help. I don't like all the waste of electricity energy, so I don't use timers and only turn them on when we're home, but I still wish I could replace them all with LED lights. Some other year when we have more $...
OK, more later...

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Amiga Inglesa/ English Friend

I want to register here that I just received the most wonderful and encouraging comment that I have received in a really long time!

Thanks, anonymous amiga inglesa (English [female] friend), you made my day! Comments like these and the friendships that I make reading other people's blogs are what make the whole "blogging enterprise" worth while. That is one of the reasons why I don't ever want to quit blogging. For some lucky few like dooce, blogging brings food to their tables and an income to live on, for others, like me, it brings the emotional, social, and even intellectual support that I need and crave in order to keep on living my sometimes complex and crazy little life.

Thanks for the kind words about my writing, amiga, and, mainly, thanks for reminding me that there are people around the world interested in Brazil!! This alone is extremely encouraging! I am aware of the departments of Brazilian studies in the U.K. and I have thought of trying to apply there or find out whether I could get a job there. In fact, it was a British translator who first brought Clarice Lispector to the world's attention and Bloomsbury and its editor Liz Calder have also published several recent books of Brazilian literature in English translation, so I know that there is significant interest in Brazil and Brazilian literature in the U.K. (not so much so here in the U.S. :-( ).

I don't know if I've blogged about this or not, but I collect children's books from Brazil too! Actually, children's literature is one of my passions, one of the reasons why I might do well in librarianship too. I'd love to be able to talk more to you about the Brazilian children's books that you have and appreciate. I wasn't aware of the immigrant Brazilian children in the U.K. and the demand for books that will appeal to their interests. Fascinating subject. There's a Brazilian immigrant writer who lives in the New York City area and who has written a few books aimed at Brazilian immigrant children here in the U.S., particularly this one. It might be useful for Brazilian kids in the U.K. too!

Well, I have to go back to work in my "in the outer fringes of academia" job now. But I do so with a smile, knowing that someone in the other side of the pond reads my words and can be so kind as to send me a lengthy and encouraging comment. Thank you so much amiga!!

P.S. And many congratulations, amiga, on learning Portuguese from scratch, as you say! Awesome!

P.P.S. You may not have noticed, but I deleted the words "useless PhD" from my blog banner. I hope that the more positive attitude may help my outlook and approach to life.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Outside Higher Education - A Mother's Manifesto

December is here, and so are the butterflies in my stomach.

This month is when I'm going to find out whether that postdoctoral fellowship will happen or not. My overgrown pessimistic side says "no," but a tiny part of me still hopes.

So, just in case I do get another shot at being an academic again, let me try to squeeze this post out of my brain before the almost clever title becomes obsolete.

I have said countless times that for me, being a mother is infinitely more important than the PhD and having an academic career. In fact, to be perfectly honest with you, I've been thinking lately that I actually don't want an academic career. Trouble is, what then, am I to do with my life? I know that there are many things that I can do, but very few of them will make use of the work that I put into the degree. So, let me get started with some ideas as to why higher education and motherhood don't go so well together, at least in my experience (and, of course, who am I to be writing this meager post about such an encompassing issue? You can read a whole book about the subject, and follow several of the book contributors' blog at, ironically, Inside Higher Ed ;-)

The academic establishment is a rough place for anyone. We as a family know that it's not much easier for men in the sciences either -- my husband is doing his second post-doc, last year he sent out 25 job applications and was selected for only one campus interview. The "dream" industry job that appeared out of nowhere went up in smoke within a year. If it isn't easier for him, however, it's much harder for me.

Of course, as I've said repeatedly, it's not hard only because I am a mother, but also because of the particular area of specialization that I've chosen and because things are harder for people in the humanities to begin with. However, one thing is abundantly clear, having babies during graduate school slowed me down considerably. It took me a really long time to finish the dissertation, it took me a couple of years to be able to present at academic conferences again and... most importantly, being busy as a mother has not made it possible for me to pursue the publication of articles and, perhaps, even working to transform my dissertation into a book.

Having a PhD and being outside higher education doesn't feel very good, but at least I'm in very good company! My friend Articulate Dad's experience was an eye opener for me in realizing that there are other avenues to explore, that we don't need to be constrained by our drive to "fulfill our destinies" as PhD holders by becoming part of the academic establishment. And also, in a sadder note, that one can try with all one's might, for several years (three in his case), applying for literally hundreds of position and not getting anything. Not even a campus visit (only for a lecture post).

The saddest thing for me is to realize that as graduate students we're mere "cogs" in this huge gear that is higher education. There is no room for us when we graduate, but they still need us as cheap labor and as ego building fodder for tenured professors (and their careers, in the case of the sciences), who revel in teaching graduate students and/or having their names appear in every single of their students' publications. (this last feature of the sciences sometimes makes me glad that I'm in the humanities -- if I ever publish anything, it's in my name alone!).

My friend M had a recent conversation with a graduate student colleague that makes very clear the incomprehension and almost intolerance that people who decide to have babies and pursue a PhD at the same time face. It seems that it is easier and more comfortable to be a mother here, outside of academia, than inside. Particularly because it seems that by being mothers we are at much higher risk of remaining in the fringes -- as adjuncts, lectures and, obviously, being in the fringe of the fringe of the fringe, like I am doing right now, working online.

Well, I am sure there's more to be said, but my son is sick (he's got a croupy cough) and I'm getting really sleepy because last night was not very good, so I'll leave it at that for now! ;-)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

All of the Responsibilities, None of the Fun

Since I started my "job" as online instructor I have realized that this function has several inherent problems, particularly for an academic like me who has spent many years working on my degree.

First, I was disappointed to see that only one other colleague in my training class had a PhD (in history, at ACLA no less). She she is a woman from India -- an expatriate like me -- who does not want to pursue an academic career and will go into library science. There was another colleague pursuing a Ph.D. online (he's a Broadway actor, much younger than I). Most other folks hold Master's degrees of various kinds. This already demonstrates that pursuing such an unconventional professional direction is not really something that people with my academic formation are doing, which is quite discouraging -- in spite of the fact of the encouragement I received from one of the members of my PhD committee. I have to deal with my own prejudice and conflicted feelings about a for-profit educational enterprise.

The main problem, however, is that in this particular function, I have all the responsibilities and duties inherent to teaching -- communicating with the students about their role in the class, grading a lot of work, giving students feedback, answering questions, etc. However, it has none of the "fun" of designing a class, selecting readings, elaborating the syllabus, thinking of discussion questions, designing assignments, all of that is taken away from the "instructor." The only things I get to elaborate are some of the grading rubrics, posts in response to my students discussions, and student feedback and grading.

Besides, I have strict deadlines for participation in the discussions, responding to student questions (no more than 24h after the question is asked -- that means that I'm constantly "on call"), and grading assignments. For grading, the deadlines go from 48h to 7 days, and that, my friends is beyond overwhelming. If one takes as long to grade as I've been taking, it becomes a nightmare. And, consequently, if I were to calculate how much I am making, I think that there are some days in which my pay would amount to 3 bucks an hour, if not less. Not fun! Not fair! I should have actually titled the post like this:
"All of the Responsibilities, None of the Fun, Very Little Pay"

Yeah, so I think I have ample reasons to be overwhelmed and frustrated by this. But I still enjoy the interaction with students. I just wish I could grade more than 4 papers an hour and still give them enough feedback and feel that I'm giving fair grades. :-(

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Going Back Home

We're going home now and in 3.5 hours we should be there. I will probably have to stay up all night grading. Well...it's OK, it's my job, I shouldn't really be complaining. Thanks for the reminder, Libby!

I'll write more tomorrow... We had a wonderful few days with our loved ones!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Spoiler

Before the day ends... I just wanted to register a complaint.

I'm not enjoying the online gig because it's so time consuming and demanding (I know that subsequent classes would be slightly -- just slightly -- easier) that it spoils my whole life... I just can't relax, enjoy spending time with my family. It's always there, in the back of my mind, and not just that, in front too, because I have to spend a lot of time "physically present" with my family, but away grading, writing posts, giving feedback to students, online.

So much for the advantage of "working from wherever/ whenever" or working from home. Nah... I just can't walk away from this! Good thing I at least take a 24h break from Friday-Saturday, or else it would have been unbearable.

OK, complaint registered. Now, off to bed. Tomorrow night... I'll try to come and say hi, but it's been hard, nearly impossible, because I'm always consumed with work at night, and late at night. And tomorrow I'll be going crazy because I have to turn in grades until Sunday. Sorry, I said I'd stop, and, BTW, I shouldn't be talking about it today... More later.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Cooking, Eating, and... Grading

The Menu

Vegetarian Dinner Roast
Gravy
Salad *
White Rice (Brazilian style)
Vegetables (brussel sprouts, green beans, broccoli)
Roasted potato wedges
Cranberry sauce (from scratch)*
Yams with Pecan Praline*

(Non traditional main dish:)
Cannelloni (heart of palm and ricotta cheese & spinach),

Desserts
Apple Pie
Maple Squash Pie*
a different kind of squash pie*
Triple Cranberry Bread*
Frozen Vanilla Cream with chocolate wafers

* Things that I made (the rest, my SIL prepared)

We're really obsessed, my sister-in-law and I, when it comes to holiday cooking... for some reason we just have to go all out, every time :-)

Well, it's fun, and yummy too! Too bad the four little boys don't eat most of those dishes... :-(

OK, I wish I could write some more, but it's past midnight again and I still have to do some grading and work on the online class (sigh)...

Maybe a photo or two later, OK?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"The Boy Who Likes Machines" Attacks

Again.

Remember the end of this post?

Well, before I forget this story, and it is no longer of any relevance or immediacy, I wanted to share it with you.

So, when my eldest was 3, I think, or maybe even earlier, at 19 months, we were in Brazil and in a moment when his grandparents needed to entertain him, they gave him their cell phone.

When they next looked at it, he had changed the language to an unknown language, probably Russian, with its Cyrillic alphabet. They were never able to change it back, right up until a few months ago when my parents finally got a new phone.

A few days ago, my boy was playing with his new obsession, the ipod touch and as it happens, he did it again! This time, we know for sure it's Japanese, and we haven't yet figured out how to change the language setting to English again. Good thing my BIL has an ipod touch too, so we'll probably be able to figure it out! (I just remembered that, which reminded me that I wanted to blog about this).

I'm sure this is the least that he may do, I just hope that his blunders don't get to cost us money anytime soon! :-(

Thanksgiving Tradition - Seven Years and Counting

In 2001, K's second brother, "K2" and his wife D came to the U.S. to study. His two younger brothers, "K3 and K4*" were already here studying as well. They were all in Texas, quite far from where we lived in MA, but they all came to spend Christmas with us in 2001 and 2002.

In the Summer of 2002, the year Kelvin (who is the first grandchild on both sides of the family) was born, K2 and D moved to Michigan, where K2 went to graduate school. Thus began our Thanksgiving Michigan trip tradition (I've already mentioned all this here), first in 2002 with an 8 month old and 2003 with a 20 month old (see photo on left), both from Massachusetts. Then in 2004, when we were already in Pennsylvania, we traveled with a 32 month old and a 6 month old, which this time was joined by his 2 month old cousin that we were meeting for the first time!As I wrote last year, these trips were exhausting and the drive took from 14-16 hours, but they were well worth the effort and incredible hassle. Being with our loved ones made Thanksgiving an extra special holiday!

Thankfully, K2 and D moved to Maryland in 2005, so since then we've been alternating the celebration of Thanksgiving Day at their house and ours. We're driving down, like we did last year.

This year my troubles with the online "teaching" gig have dampened my enthusiasm for the holiday, but hopefully tomorrow, when we're all together, D and I cooking, K1 and 2 poring over Black Friday's ads (my BIL's favorite part of T-day, looking at those newspaper inserts -- they overwhelm me terribly!) with the racket that our four boys will be doing, in the background I will feel perfectly happy!

Of course I should be packing and getting ready for the trip, but posting here is always worth it too! :-)

I wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving!!

*K4 was the only one to return to Brazil "for good," and he finished his degree and got married there, but he and his wife have just received their immigrant Visa to Canada today! Congratulations to them!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Random Bullet Point Edition Updates

I almost made it to before midnight, but not quite... again...

This online thing is just overwhelmingly involved. I don't want to talk about that right now. I could write TONS of posts about my (sometimes catastrophic) experiences so far, but I want to just go random... if my brain allows me to. Some of these bullet points will be mainly reminders of posts to come (hopefully)

  • I'd been feeling down about the house for the past couple of months, but I want to write a whole post about it. This week I've slowly began to "recover" from my funk. There's still a long way to go, in only three weeks though, before we can get the basement in shape before family comes for Xmas.
  • Teaching at the school has been mostly stress free and fun, one of the most relaxed works I ever had. It's beginning to change, though, mostly because I don't agree with certain things, particularly those that have to do with my son's academic progress :-( More on that later too.
  • We're no longer going to the Brazilian church in Philly, but to the one 5 minutes from our house, connected to the school. The funniest thing is that now that we're no longer official part of the group we've been much more socially involved with our Brazilian friends -- we've gotten together with them every weekend in the past month and a half! Now that we don't have to deal with the many issues that we faced having to be in leadership positions it is much easier to just enjoy our friends and their company.
  • I am thrilled to have been able to cancel my upcoming trip to Brazil (which was going to be on Thursday, coming back on Sat. night) and re-schedule it for mid-January, for FOUR DAYS!
  • I really with I could spend some time relaxing and watching a movie, but that's just not been possible lately. After I started grading last Friday it seems that my life as I knew it is "done gone." :-(
OK, gotta go to bed... only 21 min. late, this is...

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Worst Part of Teaching

Nope, it's not grading, although in a sense it is.

It's getting negative feedback from students about the grading. Complaints about grades or about the fairness of your grading. That is the absolute worse in my opinion.

It's worse yet when you are not very sure of yourself like I am (not) right now, and when you are worried that you may have messed up, up to a certain point.

Yeah, that really truly sucks.

You know, I had a feeling that after I had gone through the grueling process on getting destructive/constructive feedback on my dissertation I would be thick skinned to withstand anything, but it seems that my stupid, annoying, pesky sensitiveness is limitless and not fixable. Getting an angry response from a student is nerve racking.

I already lack confidence in certain areas, I feel that I'm always second-guessing myself when teaching (yeah, I need therapy, I know -- would it really help, though? I am so aware of my issues... have always been). Anyway, in this case I might be partly guilty because I used a rubric for grading that I "borrowed" from a colleague who is teaching the same class. The rubric -- which the students had access to and were encouraged to examine before submitting the assignment -- was more detailed and stringent than the assignment itself.

And I didn't realize that until I was grading on Saturday night -- too late to make any changes, since my deadline for grading those particular assignments was fast approaching!

Well, anyway, I have to go back to grading and working on correcting some of my faults.

I'm not looking forward to talking to that student, but I must address her complaints :-(.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Grading, Grading, Grading

That's what I've been doing like crazy...

and that's why I've got to tweak with Blogger so I can pretend again that I posted this Sunday.

But really, I went to bed at 2 am grading... and working on t he online class. This is most certainly worse than dissertating right now, minus the stress, but the feeling of never being done is here too. :-(

More later ("tomorrow" -- it's 7:39 am on Monday for the record)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

I Still Think that English is More Useful

Thanks for all your thoughtful responses to the semi-angsty, half deprecatory previous post. There are several other reasons for the "uselessness" of my degree and most of them are related to the fact that I decided to specialize in Brazilian lit -- hardly anybody studies it, and the Portuguese language in this country. If I had chosen Spanish as one of my lits, I would have many more jobs to apply to (including in Brazilian lit, but with a requirement to be able to teach Spanish too). As it is, only 3-5 TT positions open every year, if not less, that I can possibly apply to. Got it?

It is in this sense that I am absolutely convinced that English is not that bad. Come on, folks. All undergraduates still need to take mandatory writing classes. Everyone needs to learn how to write, right? Of course that if you're more interested in literature -- and I think that's the point the my SIL was making in her post (and please don't feel bad, sis) -- then you're in trouble too. Who in the world cares for literature, really? Worse yet, most foreign languages and us, the people who specialize in them, are in deep trouble. The 2 semester foreign lgg requirement for undergraduates is being dropped in many universities (if it ever existed in some)... so the market for foreign lggs is shrinking rapidly -- just as the world is becoming more interconnected, isn't that sad?

But I have a feeling that English will still be around for a while longer ;-)

Don't you agree? Bring on the discussion...

There were more things that I wanted to say, but I have to go back to my grading. It's all I do lately... "welcome back to teaching" the papers are saying to me in a teasing voice ;-)

post written in 10 minutes flat (that's probably why it isn't that great)

Friday, November 21, 2008

That Useless PhD

You know, you must look at the last words in my current blog tagline* and think that I am certainly exaggerating, but, friends, I am not.

It's official. Well... as official as a headline in a national news magazine can be. My sister-in-law inadvertently wrote a post today that opened my eyes and brought my attention to something that I already knew, but didn't really want to say out loud: that I was stupid enough to study something that no one knows what it is, let alone know what to do with it. Just read the title and the first lines of this Newsweek article from last summer (sorry, you've gotta wait for a commercial). It's all you need to look at and know how stupid I am. That is my discipline. The butt of jokes, the disgrace of parents of misguided undergraduates and graduate students like myself. (even my poor parents must suffer -- dedicating 24 months of their lives to their daughter's degree only to see it amount to nothing...).

I had seen derisive references to my "discipline" before, but nothing as blatant as this. So blatant and devastating that prompted me to "reveal" this "top secret" about me -- not that it really matters to maintain my semi-anonimity here. It's not like I am going to get an academic job someday, no... that is highly unlikely.

Anyway, that's not what I was planning to blog about today, but there you go. Thanks sis. And I think you're safe. As long as you stick to English, OK?


* A mother (mamãe) of two boys (born in March 2002 and May 2004) between two languages (Portuguese and English), two countries (Brazil and the U.S.), two "worlds" (academic/ home-front). After being a doctoral student for 10 years she is now trying to figure out what to do next with her life now that her husband (who also used to be a foreign student) finally got a job and she has a "useless" Ph.D.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Four Great Years

So, I've been blogging for four years and, once more, because of NaBloPoMo, I forgot to post on 11/14, this blog's anniversary. I started a "blog tradition" in last year's anniversary post in which I decided to include the best and most recent photo of me that I have. Coincidentally, this year's photo was also taken at Longwood Gardens, like last year's, but it wasn't taken by Kelvin, but by my friend Ana Paula in her new cool Nikon camera. So, here's my favorite photo from last summer, taken in August, when my favorite wild flower, Queen Anne's lace, was still in bloom.
In the past year I haven't added any new blogging friends to my list of "real live" encounters :-( but I hope that in 2009 this can change with several more blogger meet ups. And that's why today, before writing this post, I went to Mount Airy so I could see this blogger (of Leery Polyp fame) and her new girl while she's still on the inside ;-). It was a brief encounter, but still... I've been missing seeing other bloggers "in the flesh." Somehow, such encounters make me feel less lonely and weird ;-).

There's one thing that's kind of depressing about this old blog, though... I never changed the template like I wanted to have done long, very long ago (more than three years, as the first anniversary post attests) :-( Oh well, nothing can be perfect. At least today I'm posting one minute before midnight without tweaking with the date!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

TokBox Live Video-- Blog Tour

As a user of live video online communication for over 10 years I think I'm a good candidate to provide an unbiased review of a new easy to use site that provides such services: TokBox.

The first service I ever used to talk to my parents and in-laws in Brazil was Eyeball chat and it was pretty good, except that it was not very easy to install. Then we moved on to Skype, which we still use. Both of these programs require that you download them to your computer and we've encountered problems in the past depending on our relatives' internet connection in Brazil and even ours. Sometimes their computer would not show our image and vice versa, and sometimes the sound was of poor condition. So I was curious to find out whether TokBox would outperform its competitors.

Last week, when I learned that I would be participating on the blog tour I emailed my mom and told her to registr in the TokBox site so we could talk the next day and test it. That she was able to get registered and that we quickly got in touch with each other as soon as we were both connected to the site is a definite advantage of ToxBox over the other services. It is quite easy to use, even by people who are not as experienced internet users like my mother. In the past she sometimes needed help to download and install the other programs.

Although TokBox is very convenient to use and calling a friend is straightforward, we did encounter some problems in the several times that we video-chatted in the past week. My mom's image would freeze after some minutes, and so did ours. And the sound quality was pretty poor -- not very clear, a bit fuzzy and not loud enough. The sound in Skype (which we used on the first day, right after we tried it) is clearly better. Oh, and just so you know, my mom has a high speed (DSL) connection there, so the problem is not with her internet connection.

TokBox has some other clear advantages, namely, the fact that it can be embeded in facebook, MySpace and other sites so you can have video chats with your contacts there without asking them to add you as contacts in other programs such as skype. You can also create public video posts. All in all, I would recommend the site for the ease of use and convenience and I hope that its sound and video capability can improve with time. If that happens, I will probably be using it again since we rely quite a bit on online video communications so the grandparents and aunts and uncles far away can see the boys.

Note: I will receive an Amazon gift certificate for writing this review.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thinking... but not Posting

On the drive back home (I did a "detour" across the Delaware river to New Jersey and back to buy some Brazilian groceries and, in the process, filled the tank with cheaper gas -- 1.81) I had many thoughts of great things to post, but... of course, now that I'm here, after spending quite some time on my online teaching gig, I don't have time to do it. sorry...

So, I'm just here to make sure I don't miss another day (although it's already almost 2:30 am) of posting... :-(

Hopefully tomorrow... always "tomorrow."

Monday, November 17, 2008

Going to Philadelphia...

... to spend the night. Because tomorrow I am going to visit another school and observe their K-2 classroom. I have friends who live 12 minutes from the school, so I'm going to sleep at their house with Linton tonight. I don't want to have to get up super early tomorrow (and feel sick) and spend time stuck in traffic... The best part is that my friend won't be working and will spend the day home with her son, who's the same age as Linton. So I won't have to bring him along!

The worst part is that I still have to get there. I don't like getting to people's houses late at night like this, but... what can I do. So, this is my excuse for light posting today too... it's becoming standard, isn't it? See you tomorrow!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Excited!/ Gender Gap

I'm excited about my online teaching, actually, and that makes me feel so relieved! I suspect that I will enjoy it greatly because I just love interacting with people online.

Interestingly enough, I have mostly women in my two classes of 20 students. One class has three guys, and the other only one! I am wondering whether this is a random thing or whether it has to do with the fact that this is a humanities/art class.

Anyway... I'm so into this right now that I'm late to post again. Oh well... at least I'm doing it, 27 minutes late or not! OK, more tomorrow...

P.S. I'm also excited (and a tad jealous) because a friend is going to have a baby girl!! She will be the cutest baby ever, I'm sure. ;-)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Here I Go

So, tomorrow, I begin my new "career" as an online facilitator/instructor and I'm glad to report that my attitude has improved quite a bit since I last mentioned this in the blog (here). I have a feeling that it is going to be a positive experience. I enjoy interacting with people, both in person and online, so I hope that this opportunity to interact with students online can be a positive one for me and that I can encourage these 40 people to learn more about a subject that I am interested about. I know that grading will be quite time consuming and it always is boring and tiring... but, the interactions should (hopefully) be fun and stimulating. I'll let you know how it's going...

In other news, tonight was our school's gymnastics program, I've posted some pictures in the now defunct :-( photo blog of last school years' presentations and this year's is even better since we have a bigger groups of students. And they did an awesome job in their pyramids... maybe I can post a picture or two later. We also invited a group of friends over because we are saying goodbye to one couple and their baby son who are going back to Brazil, but they couldn't even come because they're packing for their trip. Good thing other friends came and they even got to see the gymnastics program! And now two of our friends' children, a boy and a girl, are sleeping over. You know... I feel happy that we have two boys and not a boy and a girl. I think it's easier to have two kids of the same gender. And I'm getting more and more convinced that I wasn't really meant to have a daughter, really. But that's probably the subject for another post.

I'm already half an hour late, so let me post this...

Friday, November 14, 2008

When Thriftiness Becomes a Way of Life or... Why I'm Afraid of Money

I have wanted to write this post for a year now (and I began it last February) because in Nov/Dec of 2007 two of my favorite blogging friends posted about this issue, namely Aliki and Dawn. So... I am "only" one year late :-) and this will be a bit of a scattered post because I am trying to end what I begin to write and not exactly suceeding.

Interestingly enough, however, since last year things have changed so drastically in this country that the whole point of the original post I wanted to write (complain a bit about how my whole life centered around being thrifty and how tired I was of that) can get a completely different spin in these economically troubled times. Most probably people will begin valuing thriftiness more, no?

Anyway, here is some of what I began to write then, which I've finished today:

Aliki's post "On Thriftiness" elicited great discussions in the comment section.

The central issue of her post was the question of whether this statement is true or not:
The notion of thriftiness is one that's been out of vogue for a long time--and not because people are better off than they were when I was growing up, but because of how rampant the consumer culture has become.
And wondering why people today seem to think that it's wrong to talk to one's children about money. And she ends with this statement, with which I wholeheartedly agree:
It's the smaller things I'm concerned about now, the daily message we send our kids, that being thrifty is shameful, and low, and downright taboo in today's culture when, in fact, it should be something to be proud of, something we hand down to our kids, especially if we have the choice--the luxury--to be gentle and kind about it.
I wrote in her comments:
This is a great post! Quite frankly, I'm tired of thriftiness, but at this point I think it has seeped into my very bones and even if we do get to a comfortable position someday, I'll keep on "thrifting." I grew up with extremely thrifty parents, not to mention that we *really* didn't have much money. Ever. I do talk about money with the boys and I'm never ashamed of doing it. I just tell them flat out that it's very expensive and we cannot afford it, period. I hope they're learning that we cannot have everything we want. I also talk to them about wastefulness, recycling, etc.

I'm afraid that I, personally, have a negative relationship with money and that's not very good. But I do hope that they [my sons] don't get to be spenders and wasters. I enjoyed to read what the other commenters had to say about this as well.
Then, only a few days after Aliki posted, Dawn wrote a post titled "I'm afraid of money" in which she discussed that she has a hard time dealing with money and, particularly that "Frugality is grand and all — I will never be a spendthrift — but the anxiety that drives it for me is not so healthy." I totally identified with her post, not that I feel the same anxiety when I buy stuff -- we have made several expensive purchases in the past year, particularly furniture (not to mention how much we spent on the home renovations), but I still feel very anxious about money.

There's a lot that I could talk about regarding this subject... about my childhood and how few toys we had and how I never asked for anything that I might have wanted. How this awareness that we couldn't afford so many things is still strong in me... It makes me say to my boys "Look, this is expensive," so often that today at the store Linton wanted to put his MiraLax back because, he said "Look mama, it's expensive!" (he really doesn't know what he's saying, obviously, it was only around 5 bucks, but Kelvin does know when something is expensive, like 100+ dollars) and I explained to him that it might be, but we needed to buy it anyway, that it was a necessity so he could use the bathroom without difficulty. I do want to instill in my boys the thought that we don't need to buy all we want, that rampant consumerism is not good and that we must value what we have and try not to spend too much.

I won't have time to go into a detailed description of my relationship with money, suffice it to say that money makes me nervous, but, contradictorily, the thought of having an actual budget and knowing exactly how much we can/ cannot spend is something I have resisted for the longest time. I try not to spend, but once in a while I do buy something and feel a bit guilty about it...

Oh, I remember one of the things I wanted to write. I would have a whole list of complaints if I only had the time to think of them: I've been tired of only buying clothes for me and the boys it the season clearances at the end of the winter and summer, but I just can't bring myself to pay "full price" (whatever that means because prices at big clothing stores such as Kohls are merely "fictional" -- which drives me nuts!) for any clothes. Even 50% discount (of the fictional sky high price) is too much for me. It has to be at 60-80% and then I still have to use my card's 15-30% discount... yeah. That's how we shop for clothes here. (and, Dawn, I don't really buy clothes at thrifty shops much because I can get brand new ones SOOOO cheap, sometimes less than 2 dollars apiece that I just don't feel like getting used ones)

All right, I'm all over the place, but I wanted to end with the fact that interstingly enough, this week Time magazine featured one of my favorite discount grocery stores in an article -- the German store Aldi. I first discovered Aldi when my brother- and sister-in-law were studying in Michigan and living in an incredibly tight budget (it's unbelievable really how my BIL made it through his MA!). It was their store of choice, and I didn't like it much at the time. When we moved to the Philadelphia area there was one a couple of miles from our house and I shopped there very often (and also at our other favorite discount store, which is much harder to find -- Price Rite). In fact, I haven't shopped in regular grocery stores for many years now (I blogged about this back in Nov. 2006 and Lauren liked that post :-) and this summer I was ELATED that I was barely going shopping at all because of the CSA share and the farm stand. It felt great!

So... I guess that at this point I should embrace our triftiness instead of complaining about it, right? It has most certainly served us well and will probably come in handy now!
(and I guess that the whole original point of this post is just moot... ;-)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Working... Crazy Weekend Ahead

Sigh...

Late again for today's NaBloPoMo's post...

Because I'm getting ready to teach next week. And getting ready to have tons of company this weekend. Hopefully tomorrow I'll be able to come and write a decent post. At least, just like every other time when I had a lame post, you'll at least get a photo:Fall Foliage

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Luna Bar in the Car

This is what my breakfast has been lately, either a Luna Bar (not even the breakfast ones, I don't like those too much. Actually, the only one I really like is the Caramel Nut Brownie) or an apple, eaten in a hurry while driving to the school. Sometimes I eat nuts too (trail mix). And... once in a while, a bagel, which is not easy to eat while driving...

You know... to say that I am not a morning person is a huge understatement. For as long as I can remember I've loathed getting up early in the morning. I went to school in the afternoon until 5th grade (in Brazil you either go to school in the morning, 7-12; or afternoon 1-6 and there's also night school), but I remember having to get up early for piano lessons. All my life I've had trouble eating breakfast early in the morning. I don't feel hungry at all, and most of what I eat makes me feel really nauseated and sometimes I almost vomit (I particularly couldn't stand oatmeal when I was a kid, yuck! I really wish i could it it because it's so healthy! Luckily Linton likes it!).

And then my IBS started back in 2006 (looong story). It only happens in the morning and it's nausea (and vomiting if I eat anything) and loose bowels, and only before 9:30-10 am -- even if I have an attack before then, after that time, I'm fine, I can eat whatever I want. I don't feel sick most mornings, only if I get up earlier than usual (around 6:30 or earlier), but I always dread feeling nauseated or sick, and I get afraid of eating anything. Thus... the Luna Bar in the car...

And the faintness of hunger mid-morning. Problem is, the children do not go to lunch until 12:30 (I know! It's late! some of those children ate around 6:30 or 7 in the morning because they have a long commute, but I don't get to decide that, unfortunately) and eating is not allowed in the classroom. I do break the rule some mornings and eat something (even in front of the kids sometimes, I'm so desperate), but generally I don't. Then I'm starving by lunch, but generally there's so much going on that I loose my appetite... So... let's say that having to go to work early in the morning is not something that works well for me.

I guess that it would probably help if I went to bed earlier, but I never do. My child-free time is precious for me and I cherish it. Sometimes I even get to hang out with my husband for a few minutes... oh well.

Sorry for the whiny post. I wanted to follow it up with one about how I figured out why it makes sense to have a lighter, "American style" lunch... but that will have to wait.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Raking in the Moonlight

It sounds almost poetic, doesn't it? Except that I wasn't just raking, I was also vacuuming the leaves, which is quite noisy (sorry, neighbors!). I had a late start today, at around 4 (yesterday too, since I had to go and buy paper bags), so I worked into the night, up until 8 p.m. because it is supposed to rain on Thursday and I have only tomorrow to finish cleaning the front yard of tons of leaves. The back will have to wait... It's tough doing things around the house when one is working, that's for sure!

I'm really tired, and all dusty and "leafy," but I still have to cook food for us for tomorrow and stay up late I don't know until what time fulfilling the requirement of my week of preparation to teach (online). Not fun at all. Can you tell that I'm not looking forward to this experience? I just can't stand the thought of doing something just for the money... :-( I won't have one moment of relaxation from now on because I will have to be plugged 24/7 to these classes -- if someone asks a question in the forum I am required to respond within 24h... I have a feeling I won't like this, but hopefully it won't be that bad...

Ok, I wish I could stay and chat longer, but I have to go... see ya tomorrow.

P.S. the moonlight was pretty, however, and the profiles of our now bare trees against the moonlit sky looked nice, except that they made me think of all those leaves I am yet to rake, blow, vacuum and bag.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Photo Update to Old Post

Since I was talking about medical things I began to look at older posts and then I remember that I wanted to post pictures to go with this post about my son's red spotted rash from last July (it was actually all I could manage to post on the 4th of July).

if you're squeamish you may not want to look at them, although the rash is not that bad... It was scary to look at, but it didn't hurt or itch. I'm sure of the culprit -- antibiotics, which made his immune system weaker and thus prone to weird reactions to the virus he had, including something like "benign acute myositis" which he had on the day before the rash appeared.

I just thought I'd plug my old post and its weird rash pictures ;-) and also explain it for those who will get it in their feed readers (I don't know how these things work, but I suppose republications of older things appear, do they?).

Since We're Talking About Money...

(first, phew! I'm not a lone parent anymore, K is safely back, and putting the boys to bed. Woo-ho!)

Thanks for your responses to the previous post, and keep 'em coming, please... I think that health care costs is an interesting subject, if worrisome. It's appalling to realize that when an unexpected medical emergency arises, such as it happened to my friend Zee, a family could easily go into absurdly high debt, sometimes so high that they go bankrupt. Wow... And I can only imagine how hard it is to spend money on fertility treatments, Meredith... thanks for chiming in (and good thing Finn is here to prove they were not in vain :-).

So... I guess I never updated the situation about the pay (end of post) at my new "job." As it turns out, a few days after I posted about it, I found out that not only was my hourly pay going down, but that they could only afford to have me work for three days a week. First I was quite upset, because I had been counting on that money, but then, after I had my first weekday at home after over a month, I felt that in the end, having Thursday and Fridays off is not altogether a bad idea. At least I can do laundry more easily, provided Th. and Fridays are sunny days, since I hang the clothes out to dry. It was quite hard to have to wash them at night, and hang them up before 7:30 am. My mom, for one, was very relieved, saying that I would finally be able to handle work and the house... well, I hope so!

Thankfully, I started my preparation week and I begin to "teach" online next week (it still makes me a bit mad to think about this "fake teaching," it's actually called "facilitatin," but that's a subject for another post, and I know I should not be too incisively open about this because if my new prospective employers find out what I think about them, it won't be good... so I won't link to them. You can find out who they are from a link in this post [sixth bullet point]). So, with the work at the school and this online gig, I'll make 2K a month, almost enough to pay the mortgage. And I'm happy with that, I really am. We can make do with that.

I'm just really really really happy that I am working after all, following all my angst about this subject this summer. Because... worrying about money? Is one of the worst feelings EVER for me. I hate money, I really loathe it, but that's subject for another time (one of those "issues" that I've been hesitant about blogging, but hopefully eventually will).

And I'm OK for making very little at this work at the school. It's the most relaxing work I've had in ages, really. I enjoy being with the children, I don't really have to do much in way of preparation, and, most importantly, it doesn't stress me out or leaves me nervous and hesitant. I feel confident that I can do a good job, and I have a good time. I can't really complain, quite the contrary. So, I guess this is it for today. I have a kitchen to clean, and stuff to prepare for my second job. This one, I'm not too keen on... I will keep track of how many hours I'm working to figure out how much I'm making per hour. I know I'm working from home and that I'm not preparing most materials (hardly anything), but still... I don't know if I won't feel a bit exploited. OK, more next time...

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Picking up the Tab :-(

One of the things that came in the mail last Thursday was from the hospital where K had his appendectomy. The moment I saw it I knew it was a bill... and I also got curious to find out how much it had cost. The funny thing is that this summer there was an article on the Philly Mag about health insurance and it featured precisely an appendectomy (the author's daughter's), so I am aware that the total there is NOT what the insurance company (IC) paid because the hospitals actually have contracts with each IC and they pay only what has been previously stipulated. Very complicated, that was the whole point of that article.

Well, take a look:

Now... the "co-pay" or whatever what we need to pay is called did surprise me (although we haven't yet called the insurance company or the hospital or K's former employer to make sure that we really have to be 1K poorer because of this)... I thought that a fancy-schmanzy plan like the one K had at Big Pharma wouldn't charge us that much and I feel terrified at the thought of how much would the tab be on another less comprehensive insurance.

I also felt a bit disappointed that his appendicitis happened while he was still under his old insurance because I suspect that his insurance plan at the university might now have had such a co-pay (we paid nothing when he had the surgery in his wrist, but then, he also didn't stay two nights in the hospital... or maybe I'm wrong, maybe we paid a couple hundred dollars... I can't remember). Well, we never had co-pays when we had the student insurance at our old universty, but then, again our grad student union was AWESOME and made sure we had free and comprehensive health and dental insurance. Oh... I miss that and no-copays...

Anyway, I have a question for you... what was the costliest and scariest copay or hospital bill tab you ever had to face?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

the disconnects in my life

for some reason I feel like not using capitalization today... bear with me, ok?

opening remarks:
this post will, in fact, be a mere draft of what I really want and need to write about this subject.... although most of it I really do not and will not, in fact, get to blog about. It's just too complicated, too personal, and too... well, perhaps polarizing to get into here.

backtracking a bit...

finding connections between all aspects of my life, having things come together so I feel whole has always been a big part of my journaling/ diary writing.

there were some key moments in my life in which this happened in such a strong way that I'll never forget.

1990 or 91, September, I think, I had just come back from one of several life-changing choir trips [we would travel for many hours by bus and thus get to have many deep conversations, as well as play games and have fun] and when I came home I found a letter from one of my dear friends (I really need to write about her someday) who lived abroad which, in turn, led me to reflect on all my friendships in a way I had not done in a long time.

1993, August... after spending four weeks traveling around the U.S. with my boyfriend (now husband) and his family and then 20 more days by myself on my uncle's D.C. area home and my aunt's Miami area house, on the night before coming back I reflected on the trip and how it had just changed my life forever (little did I know how much! ;-)

so... these moments stand there... like beautiful and precious shiny stones. And there are many others, the night I describe in this key post (go read it right now! It's about how blogging changed my life!!! ;-) was one of them.

~ ~ ~ ~
right now, I want to write a few of my thoughts about the extreme opposite, something that has been taking over my life as of late -- how disconnected the various part of my life feel and how fragmented and torn that makes me feel.

there are the most obvious disconnects caused by my status as an expatriate person -- I am disconnected from my country and, at the same time, from this "new" country -- I will never fit in perfectly in either one. I feel torn between two languages... the tagline of this blog explores these disconnects well (it reads for now, and I know change on it is overdue :
A mother (mamãe) of two boys (born in March 2002 and May 2004) between two languages (Portuguese and English), two countries (Brazil and the U.S.), two "worlds" (academic/ home-front). After being a doctoral student for 10 years she is now trying to figure out what to do next with her life now that her husband (who also used to be a foreign student) finally got a job and she has a "useless" Ph.D.).
there are also the funny disconnect between my "virtual life" through blogging and my blogging friends and my everyday life. although this one is not really a problem and more of a "solution"

far worse than all these disconnects is one that has been creeping upon me slowly in the past years of my life and which I will quickly mention, but not really elaborate on. my connection to organized religion is something that's not only a conscious choice and something which I value (in spite of the many disagreements that I have with the organization and even with certain things within broader christianity), but also part of our families, of our culture, really... it's a reality that seems to have seeped into our very bones. and I don't mind that, I really don't. the benefits far outweigh the problems and I don't really question this aspect of my life, or the everyday effects of it in my life

as my intellectual self has developed and my social life has expanded through blogging in never before imagined ways I changed in profound ways. I have come to understand that the exclusive way in which religious people tend to view the world and themselves is very limiting and sometimes even contrary to the tenets of religion itself... and the divide between myself and the people that I interact with in that context has grown and grown... (except for a few friends whose journeys are similar and who have been undergoing the same changes and struggles). the differences and struggles that *I* personally have with a certain view do not bother me, but the disconnect from people that I care about and interact with does.

today it hit me that I was probably one of the only (or few) people in a whole group that was thrilled with the outcome of this election. I tried to talk about it with some Brazilian friends, but I just had to be quiet after they brought up this issue and I had not prepared myself for such a discussion (and BTW, that link is from a person I respect greatly and whose views on religion I mostly share, reading that helped me understand better how I should deal with this touchy subject in the future)...

anyway... there were many other things that I felt today related to this issue... I don't like to feel fragmented and disconnected like that.... but I guess it's part and parcel of these post modern times ;-)

and again I finish writing this after midnight... I guess the NaBloPoMo folks will just have to forgive me again ;-)

Friday, November 07, 2008

Time to Be Alone and Reflect (or Daydream)

I've been having a lovely and rare evening of alone time right now, which lends well to introspection. K is in Brazil again, and the two little boys who came from inside my womb have long been asleep. You see, I took them to the new Please Touch Museum this afternoon and they had a great time playing and running around. We ate crackers, apples and cake in the car before starting the drive home and they ended up sleeping on the way, Linton around 6:30 and Kelvin before 7. I thought they would wake up when we got here, but I didn't turn any lights on and held Linton on my lap, bringing him straight to our bed (where I knew he'd sleep without complaining). He asked for water and that was it. Kelvin didn't even wake up when I transfered him from the car to bed.

What luxury... I've already had over two hours of quiet blog reading and facebook surfing (looking at photos of my friend, including some blog friends [thanks Jo(e)!]) and it's just 9:30!! This usually doesn't happen until 11 pm on other days. I talked briefly with K on the phone and although I should be cooking for church potluck tomorrow, I just made a big bowl of popcorn and ate in front of the computer. Next, I want to listen to some music, perhaps look at old photos and, hopefully, find some motivation to write in my journal. What I really need tons of motivation for, though, is to deal with all the leaves in our 0.74 acre yard and cleaning and organizing our basment before the holidays. ;-)

Instead (not that I'd be doing those things right now), I'm daydreaming with a plan that I concocted yesterday, while looking at photos of friends on orkut (the "facebook" of Brazilian folks, there are millions of them in there, and I've been able to find friends from my childhood I hadn't seen in over 25 years. I LOVE the internets!!!). We were planning a good two weeks with family here during the holidays, but as it turns out, my brother- and sister-in-law's greencards finally arrived and they decided to travel to Brazil soon after Christmas. That left us a week wide open and while looking at our friends' photos last night (or on Wed. night, can't remember) I had this sudden idea that we should drive down to Florida for a week to see these dear friends we haven't seen since August 2006!!!! I'm so excited! I wish we had more time because driving will take a full day or maybe more, but I still think it's worth it.

I love these plans that come out of nowhere, like my idea that we should travel to Europe in 2000 (you can read more about these sudden plans, and those that follow in the account of my journey to have a baby [babies] while in grad school) and, most of all, I love to plan future trips because traveling is one of the things I love the most in life. We haven't done any big trips in a while... in 2000 K and I backpacked for a month in Europe, in 2001 we went to London for a week, in 2003, when Kelvin was 13 months, we traveled for 3 weeks with my parents through the southwest/ west, visiting 7 National Parks, then, in 2006 we went to Florida for a couple of weeks. I don't really count the trips to Brazil because they're not nearly as exciting to us since we go every year, or the two quick trips to Nashville in Oct. 06 and April 08 (too short). This trip will be short too, but in the absence of any other ones, it will have to do.

Here are some of the trips that I dream of doing in the future:
- visiting Europe with the boys and/or my parents,
- going to Seattle, Vancouver, Calgary and doing the amazing Jasper-Banff trip to see those amazingly colored glacier lakes.
- going back to Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, and other National parks with the boys
- travel through California, particularly the northern part which we haven't visited yet... San Francisco, Yosemite, etc.
- going to Mexico
- going (preferably multiple times and to multiple countries) to the Caribeean [this, right now, is close to #1 in my list)

Interestingly enough, although I know that we will probably visit my brother in New Zealand, and I kind of wish we could visit my BIL, SIL and new nephew in Turkey, I don't feel these are really places that are high in my priority list. I don't lament at all not having been to China while my brother lived there in the past two years.

All right, this post is getting really long and I have a slight headache, so I will prepare a cup of tea and take a long shower... heavenly, no?

Really... I'm just so elated for this stress free evening! I think I totally deserved it. A friend and mom of one of Kelvin's classmates (ha, and my student) told me they're planning to go to Please Touch on Sunday and I think we'll join them, even though it'll be crowded (I can't stand crowded places and I avoid them like the plague). OK... have a good weekend everyone! (although I think I'm the only person in my blogging acquaintance that spends time on blogs on the weekend ;-)

[and it took me precisely 30 minutes to write his post]

Thursday, November 06, 2008

71 Years Ago Today

My daddy was born... ... and since last year we could not celebrate properly his 70th birthday because of some unfortunate and life-shattering events*[go to the end of the post for the story and an update] that happened two weeks before (and only a week before K lost his job), I want to write a post full of old photographs to celebrate him, his life, and his family.

Our family is really really lucky to have several really old photos, particularly of my dad's family (I've shown you some of my mom's last week). Here is my dad as a newborn, first a close up with his mom, who was just so young -- she looks like a teenage girl! (I have to check with my dad how old she was, probably 19 or 20) and the full photo, with a friend of the family to the right, holding dad's wobbly newborn head, and his grandma to the left:
My grandma breastfed my dad until he was four, just like Kelvin, dad's first grandson! (we sometimes joke that my dad is so calm because of all these years nursing)

Here is the whole family at the time, with four of their eight children, the first three boys and the newborn first daughter. My dad was their second live child and he's the cute one right in between his mom and dad (apparently he's always been the favorite son): Their first child had actually been a daughter too, but she died in infancy. My grandma was only 15 or 16 and she told me last year she didn't know how to breastfeed and what to do. She laments to this day that she was still a child and that the death of her first child could have been avoided. She told me that one of her breasts got so engorged that it had an abscess that had to be cut open and drained. Then she had to breastfeed all her children with only ONE breast! (I've inserted a close up of my dad to the right)

And here is a lovely photo of the three older boys in the family and their cousin Marilu, my dad is in the center:
Weren't these German/Polish Brazilian kids cute?

Another close up of my dad:



The family again, now with six children (the oldest boy was away in boarding school). Dad is the lanky boy in Grandpa Adolfo's side, wearing a short suit:Today they're celebrating dad's birthday in Curitiba (where most of our extended family lives) with my aunt, the one with the bow in the photo above. They had lunch out with her and her husband at a nice restaurant and right now they're probably at my cousin's house, meeting the new baby, daddy's "grand-niece." I wish I could be there too! Good think my brother (who lives in New Zealand now), is in Brazil on a business trip and will get to see my parents this weekend!

Well, Happy Birthday Daddy!! I will call you later today so I can sing Happy Birthday and talk to you on the phone. I love you!
* What happened was that my dad, driving pretty fast at night in a darkened road, hit a man who was walking pulling a bike in the middle of the road and the 59 year old man (who was drunk when struck) died two days later. My dad, who is one of the kindest and most compassionate people I know was utterly devastated. My parents have been since helping the man's widow, who is miserably poor and has a six year old son (Kelvin's age), a teenage daughter, and an older son, by paying her rent as well as bringing her food and other necessities. A couple of weeks ago my dad used up most of his savings to buy a small house for her -- he had been anxious all year long about this. The civil process is still going on, but the house will most probably legally become the settlement for the accident and the death. Since these legal procedures take so long and the family is not pressing criminal charges against my dad, he wanted purchase a house as soon as possible and I'm sure he is relieved that she has a place to call her own now. The hardest part will be helping her to keep a job (she currently works at the town hall, probably as a cleaning lady or something, but apparently the town will be laying off a lot of people). I think that for the rest of his life my dad will be helping this poor woman and her family, although after the settlement he won't be required by law to do it (and, of course, neither is he required now, but he just can't help it but do it).

Edited to add:

First, thanks for the comment, Dawn! As for your question regarding how my dad is doing emotionally, I think he is doing fine although I am sure he has his ups and downs and is certainly haunted by this horrible experience. He was very fragile when I visited them briefly last year less than two weeks after the accident and my mom was very worried about him. During the four months that they were here earlier this year he was his old self again and this past June I got to go to the widow's house with him once and see how nervous he gets. At his lawyer's advice he wouldn't go talk to her, so I dropped off the food and got to see, for a brief moment, how terribly poor they are. Too bad I was so nervous and didn't stay and really talk to her, these situations of being keenly aware of one's privilege are so uncomfortable, aren' they?

I guess that now with the house, things have changed and dad is probably more directly in touch with the widow. My mom frequently tells me how he is going to town to do something for her. I'm sure that this makes him feel better and more emotionally whole. He is not one to talk about his feelings much, he is the type of person who blocks painful memories and he simply doesn't remember certain negative experiences from the past (my mom is the opposite, and I guess I fall in between), so we've never really talked much about it. My mom can usually tell when he has pent up feelings that are just overwhelming to him, but which he still won't share or admit. I was afraid when the accident happened that he wouldn't be able to be happy and enjoy life again, but thankfully that is not the case. It's a cliche, but it's true that time does heal most wounds, I guess.