Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tying Loose Ends

Note: written at the time "posted" but actually published at 12:30 am 10/1.

So... Since I don't like "catch-all" posts (this doesn't mean I don't write them more often that I'd like to), I'll try to write several posts tying some loose ends from previous posts...

I don't feel very motivated to post in the blog anymore because I have a strong feeling I don't have any readers, but still... it's the old talk about doing this "for myself" and for nobody else that keeps me going, I guess. And, of course, I'm sure that all three of you that are still out there will appreciate if I can post a bit more often! :-)

And here's a recent photo for your enjoyment:The Ben Franklin Bridge and the Delaware River at sunset, taken from Penn's Landing in Philadelphia...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Lost in the World, in Life, Looking for I Don't Know What

Actually, I think I what I want to know is the answer to a few "simple" questions...
Who am I?
What do I want to do with my life?
Where do I want to live? Why?
What is important to me? Why?
Yeah, really simple, like that :-(. Nothing too philosophical, right? Thoughts that cannot leave me alone for even a minute since the life changing possibility entered our lives a few days ago. My every waking moment is spent living under the shadow of "staying or going back," and the disquieting questions above. It's also really eerie how everything I do feels like "the last time" for some reason. As if the mere idea of leaving meant a sudden and definitive departure.

My husband just sent me the link to this brief talk by Dallas Willard (who is an academic, a philosopher and one of the leading thinkers on Christianity nowadays, his books have influenced my husband very deeply in the past few years -- the title of the talk, if you're curious and don't want to click over there, is "My Journey To and Beyond Tenure in a Secular University") and, for some reason (again, sorry for being so repetitive today), I cried from beginning to end reading it. Big tears that rolled down my face non stop even for a few minutes after I finished reading... and that are now dry, making the skin feel kind of rough and stretched. I wanted to write him an email, but I can't. I know that as a well known scholar and published author he's overwhelmed with people contacting him and trying to interact with him, so, what could I do? Sure enough, you guessed it, I'd go write a blog post! One that probably no one in the www (whole wide world/ world wide web/ why? who? where?/ what? when? whatever...) will ever read. It still helps to write it.
I guess I started to cry when Dr. Willard said, "I became convinced that I really was a hazard to the people who had to listen to me." (I feel the same way, and K does too, when I try to talk about religion with anyone I know from the same religious conviction as mine). Then, when he described what being a scholar meant to him in the context of his life as a truly religious person, I just continued to be moved beyond what my words can express. I think I could be a scholar in the way that he describes -- not looking for anything, for recognition, promotions, not even looking for jobs (BTW, the waterworks have started again... and now my throat hurts) -- just trying to bring a significant contribution to my field. Yeah... that is something that I do care about. I really do. And the recognition that in the end nobody reads academic writing anyway, but that it doesn't matter, it can still be relevant to the field.

And that... (I cannot go back to the essay, without crying buckets, now that my tears have stopped again) led me somehow to the questions above.

Why do I feel I have problems to go back? I think I've grown more and more comfortable in my skin, in my life, particularly the life of the mind (the most important one for me) because of this blog, because of the people that I met (in person or virtually) because of it. And somehow I feel that this person that I have become kind of belongs here in the U.S. and doesn't make much sense at all in Brazil. I only have two friends in Brazil who blog or used to blog. Not that there aren't bloggers there, but, I don't know, although this is a virtual community, I know I could travel a few hundred miles in every direction and meet many of you in person and that thought, crazy though it may sound, is incredibly comforting to me. I even have this feeling that if I move, I have to start another blog or something, that this part of my life will be over although I'm supposed to remain the same person.

If we do go, before we depart I will want to do several "pilgrimages" to meet some of you. To NC (Hi Aliki!), to Columbus (Hi Dawn, AmFam, even Jenna who probably doesn't know who I am), to upstate NY (Hi Jo(e)!) and to some other places if possible (NYC - Sarah Sometimes).

OK, so, before I finish... some words about possible answers to those pesky little questions. I wish I could just wave them away like a cloud of annoying mosquitoes. I just wish... (sigh).

Who am I?
(Ha! I've devoted a whole post to this subject before! Nobody commented, who cares? I'm so self-centered, nobody will read this either.)
A mother. Right now an unemployed "SAHM." Possibly, a scholar, an academic. Perhaps (very distant in the past) a teacher -- I'm not confident at all about this role that I used to "play" in life. A friend. I LOVE to be a friend and be friendly, online and "in real life." Having/making friends is just one of the greatest joys of my life.

What do I want to do with my life?
Frankly, I DON'T KNOW! In spite of all past certainty about the things that I've done so far, I just don't know.... if I'd enjoy teaching full time. I know for sure I'd love to do research, but how can I do that? In Brazil I could probably get a grant quite easily and I already have tons of great projects in mind. That does feel exciting.

Where do I want to live? Why?
I hope to discuss this one further in the weeks/months to come...

What is important to me? Why?
I think I know what is important to me. My family and friends. A vibrant religious community. Working with something I'm passionate about.

All that angst and such an anti-climatic end to this post. Forgive me because I'm quite tired, having traveled to Maryland for my nephew's birthday party today. It feels good to think and write about these issues. Slowly, I know, things will get sorted out in my life. Meanwhile, either enjoy the angst or look away. Deal?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Wherein We're Faced with Life-Changing Possibilities

Every single day K checks for possible job openings in his area, both here and in Brazil and yesterday he found one that left him positively shell shocked.

I've mentioned here before that he has participated of three concursos, that is, competitive job searches (usually with exams for all candidates) for tenure track positions at universities in Brazil and he didn't pass in two of them and ended up giving up on the third (chronologically in between the other two). So, yesterday K found out that there is not one, but three openings in his area for one of the universities he wants to work for (in Sao Paulo state). Not only are there three positions, but it's in a campus that couldn't be closer to where my parents live and where we have a lot ready for building a house. K was flabbergasted when he found that and he's obviously planning on applying.

Chances are high for him to pass this time, though. And that would mean we'd be returning to Brazil, perhaps as early as next January, or, maybe next year in the summer (if he can convince them that he should finish his second postdoc -- it seems it's an urgent job search).

That would truly be a radical change. Not unwelcome, but still... not exactly what we'd been envisioning or planning for.

OK, more on this later...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Still Chasing the Musical Dream -- 2nd Generation

This story has almost acquired the status of legend in my family...

It was the year of 1978. Early one morning -- apparently it was a Friday and my parents were sleeping in a bit -- there was an unexpected knock on their bedroom window and when they opened it, they saw their neighbor, a young woman, a music teacher who was a friend of the family. She had come to confirm with them if I was going to start piano and music lessons or not as they might have previously talked about. So I did.

I was 6.5 years old and just beginning to read (I learned on my own, I only went to school at 7.5, but that's another story). I not only had private piano and recorder lessons with teacher Edith, but also weekly music classes at a the best music conservatory (and, I believe, art school) in the city, the School of Fine Arts (Escola de Belas Artes). I also sang in Edith's children's choir (my little brother did too). In the first months I had to go to another neighbor's house to practice, since we didn't yet have a piano. I remember walking by myself and trying to practice in those strange houses (there were two different neighbors with pianos).

Then my mom got the money from her scholarship (she was just starting to study to get her master's degree and she got a scholarship from the government, given in a lump sum) and bought me a beautiful upright piano. It still occupies a prominent spot in my mother's living room since I don't live in Brazil -- much to my mom's chagrin, obviously -- and I know she would rather have the piano at my house than being daily reminded of my absence by looking at it. I could go on an on, but now comes the heartbreaking part and I'll summarize as best as I can. After the piano got home, I could practice more easily and, also, find the hard, sad truth that I was never going to be a good piano player. You know, I've never wanted or asked to be brilliant, I just wanted to be able to make some music, to play OK. When I was six years I had certain melodies and harmonies in my head that I'd heard on TV and loved, and I wanted to play them with my fingers but I just couldn't.

And I still can't.

In spite of the fact that I studied piano for long, endless seventeen years. Yes, I was already married when I finally finished my "degree" in music (equivalent of a high school diploma) when I gave my last recital, four years late. I don't regret it. I did do it partly for my mom, and for my teacher, not really for myself. They would never give up on me, although I wouldn't practice enough, and could never be really good. Although I still feel like a failure and profoundly sad for my ineptitude to capture the music inside of my head or on the printed page, I think it was kind of worth it (OK, I'll admit that I do have mixed feelings about all this).

All right... all this to say, with heartfelt trepidation, that today my 7.5 year old son begins taking piano lessons.

My parents are helping us pay for the boys' music education (Linton is going to a Musik Garten class with the same teacher, who has a music studio at her house) and we decided that the fact that I'm cyberschooling them makes it both easier and more desirable to add other "extra curricular activities" (that sounds so pompous!). I wish we could start swimming lessons too, but I don't think we can afford them. :-(

I have mixed feelings about this milestone because I don't want to set my sons up to fail as I did*. However, since my husband also plays the piano (mostly by chords, not reading music that well) and my brother, two of my brothers-in-law, as well as my mom and my MIL do too, learning to play the piano and actually playing it (even if just as well/ or badly as I do) is an absolutely non-negotiable goal that we have for our sons. They won't be given the option of not learning to play the piano, so I'm taking the utmost care in choosing an experienced teacher that I think will motivate them and who uses the best methods available (this for piano).

I have high hopes for them, though. I kind of wish I could teach them myself, but I know I just can't. I'm too undisciplined. Now I need to make sure I will get them to practice. That won't be easy because I didn't like to do that at all! I just hope this all works out. And I don't mind if you say that I'm "projecting" my own dreams and frustrations on my boys. They will study the piano and I'm sure they'll learn something, but I don't really mind if they don't do well. I just wish I could be able to avoid the frustration the not doing it well can bring, but I also know that it's part of life, and will help them grow. And I dream on.

* I did not really fail, I just don't have any talent. I love music dearly and that's why it's all the more heartbreaking not having the talent. Of course the piano is one of the most difficult instruments there is, so I'm not berating myself for my lack of ability! I also play the flute and I'm not that bad in it. I hope someday to go back to taking flute lessons and trying to play in an orchestra or chamber music ensemble.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Kiddie Torture

So, this is how it went today...

My boys generally enjoy going to the doctor (Kelvin would say he loves to) and I thought that I had prepared them well for today’s appointment, which would involve a lung function test (blowing something in front of a computer) and allergy skin testing. What I overlooked, however, since I hardly remember the allergy tests from my own childhood (in the arm, not the back), is that the test involves actual skin reactions, swelling (hives), itching and, in sum, it’s very uncomfortable, particularly if you, like Kelvin, turn out to be allergic to most everything. So this part of the visit felt like sheer torture to the boys. Just take a look at Kelvin’s back (photo taken with my cell phone*):The black dots are the pen markings that the nurse made to know where the allergens had been applied.

Linton, who had much milder reactions, cried during most of the whole 10-15 minutes before they came to do the reading. He first became upset by the sting of the allergens being applied and then couldn't calm down. Poor Kelvin, who is always very patient and enduring, complained a lot an grimaced the whole time, given that the itching was so unbearable. The nurses actually came to do the measuring earlier than the full 15 minutes because Kelvin's reaction was just so strong. Good thing the boys are ticklish so they both laughed when they were measuring (with a ruler) each welt and red splotch. The laughter dispelled the tension and overwhelmed frenzy from the room and the cortisone cream applied by the nurse took away most of the itchiness. Phew!

It turns out that they're not allergic to any of the foods tested: peanuts (Kelvin was worried about this one, he loves peanuts), wheat, soy, milk, and egg. However, both are allergic to dust and to cats, dogs and horses! You may recall that we have a cat, and I never ever suspected this. Then Kelvin is allergic to the pollen of every single plant listed there, another surprise for me, given that he never had seasonal allergies! It's all pretty strange...

The doctor recommended that both boys take a daily dose or Zyrtec to control their (mostly symptom-less) allergies and prescribed several medications for the asthma flare ups: steroids for the nebulizer, an inhaler (with mask/spacer), and Singulair, which is only to be used if the antihistamine doesn't help Linton not have attacks. Frankly, I'm not too keen on having the boys take Zyrtec daily! My gut feeling would be that Linton might need it more, in spite of the fact that Kelvin seems to be the most allergic of the two.

You see, Kelvin was sick with wheezing/asthma exactly three times in his seven and a half years of life! At 12 months, 33 months (when we got the nebulizer) and then last year at six. In these three times he was given steroids and used the nebulizer (with albuterol). Other than that, he's a very healthy boy who hardly ever gets even a cold. And even when he's sick he's just so good about it that it does not disrupt our lives too much (e.g. he can sleep fine even if coughing or sniffling while Linton comes to our bed if anything happens). Linton, on the other hand, is the one who started getting worse and worse this year and who's been coughing and wheezing every time he has a cold (four times, at least, this year). The only thing about surreptitiously disregarding doctor's orders is that we have to go see him again in six weeks...

Last but not least, I will definitely have to dust and clean the boys' room very often now, if only to quiet my guilty conscience! Sigh. We are not giving up our cat, though, that we just can't do, it would be too heartbreaking (and the boys have never really gotten an asthma attack because of him -- Linton only has it when he has a cold)! What would you do?

* And because of that I was finally able to figure out how to access the photos we've been sending to "My Album" for the past two years! Lots of cell phone candid shots upcoming, either here or on the Project 365 blog!

P.S. I kind of like this post better than the one I had originally written. Writing only improves with multiple tries. I should know, right? Didn't I write a 500 page dissertation? Ha!

I Keep on Trying, I Guess I'll Never Give up!

I just sent an abstract for an academic conference presentation in Montreal next year (see, I have a brother-in-law who lives in Montreal, I only go to conferences in places where I have a free place to stay and where I can usually go with my family).

I wasn't going to do it, but then I started thinking of how my paper could really be a contribution and the academic bug bit me again, so I went ahead with it. I wrote an abstract in less than half an hour (it was due today and I just sent it 3 minutes before midnight), but it was only 150 words. I need to send a 500 words one and I told them I'm doing that tomorrow -- I hope they don't mind!

One of my biggest problems is that I keep presenting at conferences (I really enjoy that), but I don't publish anything! BLAH!!! I wish I could be more sanguine about getting my stuff together and DOING IT. My three publications are stupid because they were mostly requested papers, not really blindly peer reviewed thingies. And I have this huge pile of papers from presentations that could be polished and sent out for publication, only I never do it.

Another thing I should be doing/ have done is querying possible publishers in Brazil to get my dissertation published. I don't think it'd be that hard.

And then there's the website. I really want to put most of my dissertation into a website, but that costs some MONEY! And it involves technology skills that I don't have and can't afford to pay anyone to do for me. :-(

Will I ever give up? Or will the flame die one day. In short 8 months the dissertation will be TWO YEARS OLD and past its expiration date (Nah, not really).

Well, OK, let me publish this and try to go back to our doctor's appointment story... Sigh.

The Mother and the Academic, the mother always wins, right? But the academic is pretty persistent...

LOST post!

After my post about today's doctor's appointment was nearly done, I accidentally somehow selected the whole text and typed "nd" (I guess the end of and or end) and LOST EVERYTHING.

I know I should never ever type posts online in the blog itself -- because the instant saving function becomes a nightmare in a moment like this, but since this never happens, I continue.

I will try to recapture the lost post, word by word, but it's just SO FRUSTRATING!

Well, I should be glad that it's just a silly old post about going to the doctor, and not one of my favorite, more reflective posts. OK, I'll go type somewhere else now and be back later.

What a WASTE of time!!! (yeah, as if blogging itself weren't already a capital waste of time).

Monday, September 14, 2009

Revisiting Childhood, But Not in a Good Way

I was a lonely, sick child. And if this statement (mis)leads you into the conclusion that my childhood was bad, you'll be very mistaken, because it was a wonderful, almost picture-perfect childhood, loneliness and sickness notwithstanding. I'll talk about the former some other time and shall address the latter in this post. As for the "picture perfect" aspect of my childhood, I haven't found the words to write about it just yet ;-). So, you've been warned, if you don't like health related conversations, this post is not for you.

After my parents returned from their three and a half years of life in Central Europe (France, in the border with Geneva, Switzerland, where I was accidentally born, you can read more in the link above) and I was nearly two, we went to live in a small town in the North of Paraná (Brazilian Southern state). My brother was born when I was 2.5 and around this time I began to have really bad asthma attacks. There were countless nights when my parents had to rush me to the ER in the middle of the night because I couldn't breathe and the small town doctors would give me steroids and nebulizer treatments so I could get better.

When I was four my parents moved to the state capital, Curitiba, and there, also in one of their middle of the night trips to the ER, my mom found out, to her utter dismay, that here in the big city they didn't recommend using steroids because of their evil side-effects on little ones. She regretted with all her might what was done to me during the previous two years and I can even remember her and the doctors talking about that "evil cortisone." I didn't get any better, quite the contrary, and had several bronco-pneumonia cases before they decided to remove my tonsils, which would get badly inflamed and led to pneumonia. I remember the surgery, although I was only 4.5-5 years old, and also countless boring hours doing nebulizer treatments at a clinic, as well as physical therapy (the therapists would work on my back, hitting it rhythmically, so the phlegm could loosen up).

When I was 6.5 my mom was so fed up with doctors that she decided to take matters into her own hands and follow more holistic methods. She had me undergo a juice fast/detox for about a week (in bedrest) followed by three weeks eating only raw fruit and vegetables. I remember that really well... I think it was at that time, when was I so hungry for anything, that I really leaned to LOVE eating salads. The taste of juicy, sweet red bell peppers always brings me back to that year. I felt way better immediately and sneezed for the first time (allergic rhinitis was another lifelong problem) only after I began eating bread and other grains again.

At 8.5 years old we moved to the countryside -- the idyllic part of my childhood, the five years in which my parents worked at a boarding academy -- and I continued to be sick, on and off. More natural treatments followed, particularly hydrotherapy (hot baths, icy water in arms in the summer, etc). I also spent years drinking bitter teas and taking different types of medication, so I don't mind those things to this day, my mom says that I was infinitely patient, the model patient. In addition to those approaches, my mom relentlessly sought doctor after doctor, even this horrible charlatan guy who made us travel to São Paulo (a state to the North of Paraná) every month for about a year to see him! Good thing our health insurance covered all that... (the charlatan endocrinologist sting, though, was mostly because I'm too thin, and her too, the guy diagnosed us with hyperthyroidism and gave us medication that neutralized each other! All bunk).

I went to several allergists, did allergy testing and immunotherapy for a couple of years with daily subcutaneous injections... THE WORKS! But nothing really made me get better.

When I was 13 we moved to São Paulo where the asthma wasn't that bad anymore. But the allergic rhinitis, oh man! I was always sneezing and sniffling, with a runny nose/post nasal drip. My mom took me again to this crazy allergist who told people they were allergic to nearly every food they ate and treated them with sub lingual drops, but I quickly figured out that it wasn't making me better at all, so I just quit. My allergies were going from bad to worse and on the day before my high school graduation (or perhaps on the very day, the ceremony was in the evening) my mom had to quickly take me to the ENT (Ear nose throat doctor, in Brazil we call them "Otorrinolaringologista" -- otorhinolaryngologist) because my rhinitis had gotten so bad that it had turned into sinusitis and I had a low fever and a constant headache (I still have sinusitis on occasion... sigh). Thankfully the medication kicked in and I got to (barely) enjoy my graduation.

Then... only a month later in January 1990 my life suddenly and unexpectedly changed. And I cannot tell this story without feeling bad that after all these years I have been "backsliding" and that that's why I still get sick sometimes. The featured speaker to a pastors' family retreat that we attended was a (South) Korean allergist (who lived here in the U.S. at the time). He gave several wonderful lecturers explaining that a healthy lifestyle, particularly a plant-based (vegan) diet are the only "cure" (actually, prevention) to allergies, diabetes, high blood pressure and other conditions. So I went home and, from one day to the next, became vegan. And healthy again.

I was relatively strict for nearly ten years (with occasional relapses, always for ice-cream or Brazilian desserts, most of which are based on sweetened condensed milk), but my husband, who is ovo-lacto vegetarian, still used eggs and dairy products. Then I started using eggs and gradually began to consume more dairy products. One of the problems with being vegan for me is that I never ever liked soymilk (nor rice and neither the nut milks, the only one I think is OK is the recent and super pricey "So Delicious" coconut milk beverage) and I really missed plain yogurt, my favorite dairy food. In addition, contrary to cheese or condensed milk, I never seemed to suffer any recurring allergies (mostly runny nose) when eating yogurt, so I began to eat it again. Then, in the past two years I began to eat and cook with cheese regularly and I haven't really felt sicker. Maybe I overgrew most of my allergies.

And now, I come to the reason of this post. My history with asthma -- a disease the I probably genetically "inherited" from my paternal grandfather and which might have been triggered by the fact that I was given tons of allergenic cheese as an infant in France/Switzerland -- has always made me fear that my sons could have the disease too.

A week after Kelvin's first birthday he started wheezing and we ended up spending an unforgettably long night at the hospital (where we were transported in an ambulance from the university clinic, since the hospital with pediatric care was 20 miles away). Then, he had another wheezing episode when he was 21 months (that's when we got our nebulizer). He's been mostly OK, except for another episode last year. Linton had been fine (although we had him use the nebulizer 3 or 4 times between the ages of 2 and 4 when he was coughing a bit). Even last year, when I took him to the doctor because he seemed to be "wheezing" they told me it was only a "croupy" type of wheeze and cough. They still gave him steroids and told us to use the nebulizer.

Last April things took a turn to the worse, however. One terrible night when we were in Massachusetts his ever worsening cough still sounded like a croupy cough (upper respiratory tract ailment as opposed to lung constriction), but got terribly worse during the night until his breathing was really shallow and frequent. I ended up not going to the ER and only using our friends' nebulizer (I didn't have the boys' new insurance cards, only the info), but after that day, every single time he got a cold (sniffles, runny nose) he started coughing and kind of wheezing. The last time was three weeks ago and this time the pediatrician scolded me for not having gone to the allergist yet and prescribed steroids again and albuterol in the nebulizer.

Tomorrow morning I'll take both boys to the allergist/asthma doctor and I'm not very happy about that. The prospect of having my "baby" diagnosed with the same disease I grew up with is heartbreaking. My husband has been considering going fully vegan for a while now, he thinks it's the most healthful diet, and now he's been saying that we should do it sooner rather than later for the sake of the boys' health and I agree. I'll write more about this because I know it's a really hard change to undergo, particularly because it's more time consuming to prepare and much more costly to eat healthier.

Meanwhile, I'm just not looking forward to tomorrow... the allergy skin testing, lung function, the surprises that may come up (what if they test allergic to cats? or wheat? or soy? I already don't think dairy is good for one's immune system anyway, so that would be ok...). Most of all, though, I don't want my boys to have the burden of the "asthma label." I'm already trying my best not to tell them things such as "Hey, Kelvin, don't make Linton laugh, because he's going to start wheezing." I spent my whole childhood knowing that there were many things (such as running and playing most sports) that I simply couldn't do or I'd get sick. I hope that this won't be the case with them. And I really don't want the doctor to prescribe daily steroids... I know that's what they do nowadays, and the pediatrician explained that it's better than having to take steroids each time they have an attack, but, hopefully, we can try to make the boys healthier and avoid those in the first place.

Curious fact
: There's an interesting "side effect" of growing up as an asthmatic that stays with me to this day. I spent countless days and nights in my childhood hugging my knees against my chest, either crouching on the ground, sitting, or laying in bed on multiple pillows at night. Because of that, I still spend most days with my legs folded up on chairs, sofas, even at the table when I'm eating. When I did figure skating for two semesters during grad school, I was one of the few who could skate fully crouched and extend one leg above the ice. No wonder I feel really comfortable crouching (a common position for me) after so many years of "forced conditioning."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Weekend Update -- Sunny Sunday Edition

"Summer is back!" My five year old exclaimed this morning when he realized it was going to be a warm day. Last week he was really sad and whiny, lamenting the chilly weather and saying that summer was gone. I felt the same way and boy... am I glad we're going to Brazil on December 7 or what!?

The day was a busy one, I did three loads of laundry, which we hung outside to dry (laundry is an interesting subject I want to blog more about sometime -- I haven't used the dryer in over six months!) and I made my second batch of tomato sauce to freeze. I bought a box of very ripe tomatoes from Lancaster county for 8 dollars on Friday, peeled them all last night and then prepared the sauce today (with sauteed onions and garlic, plus herbs). Meanwhile, my parents (who came from Maryland to visit this weekend) were busy packing their suitcases and helping around the house. I wanted to go out in the afternoon with the boys and my parents (my dad decided not to go), but it was past 2 pm when we finally ate some linguine with the fresh tomato sauce and got ready to leave.

Funny as it seems (since my youngest son was so happy about the warm weather), it was hard to get the boys out of the house. They are in another one of their intense train phases* and they just want to play trains all day and into the night. Yesterday they even installed a railroad in their bedroom and played for hours (the trains and tracks are always in the basement). So, I guess today marked the first day the boys simply refused to go to Longwood Gardens with my mom and I. We went to the Morris Arboretum instead (they did, finally, after many long years, got tired of the Garden Railway there, despite their love of trains), but only because we promised them to stop at Target on the way back (Kelvin bought the train station pictured on the right with his own saved money) and at Barnes & Noble where they love to play with the wooden Thomas railway...

I was really happy with the warm day and the all the productivity, but I wanted to have gone to Longwood, if only for two hours. The evening has not been as productive, though. I did put the cooled sauce into containers that I labeled an put into the freezer (see left) and I cleaned my computer desk. I should, however, have cleaned the whole study more thoroughly so we can have an organized room for "school" tomorrow, but I'm here writing this boring post. Sigh. I wanted to upload some more fun photos from the day, but I'd first have to save them in lower resolution because it just takes too long.

Tomorrow I'll be back with a post about my childhood and being a parent. Oh, and of course it's past 1 am on Monday, but I tweaked with the day to keep this post with the Sunday date.

* Their obsession for trains seems to be a permanent one. There are "lulls" or periods in which they play with something else, but they always go back to their trains (the [evil plastic] battery operated Thomas & Friends trains). We do have lots of engines (upwards of 17! They lined them all up on the dining room table today), tons of the old blue tracks and one set of the new "Trackmaster" beige tracks. I think we haven't wasted a penny with the money spent on these trains (which was not that much, considering that many of them were gifts).

Friday, September 11, 2009

"When flesh and steel are one," or How the Show Had to Go On

The "flesh and steel" that Sting originally refers to in his lyrics is not meant to describe what had happened earlier on that day, 9/11/01, the same day of the show that resulted in the recording of his album ...all this time. However, the unspeakable reality of steel, concrete and flesh becoming at once one and nothing was all I could think of as I listened to "Fragile" and watched the DVD as my brother told me the circumstances of that show, recorded live in Italy on the same fateful day. I am sure that Sting and his band felt that even more keenly when they interpreted this song that evening. And yet, in spite of the circumstances, the show had to go on.

I listened to the CD again on our recent trip and I thought that writing about this would be a good way to honor the 8th anniversary of 9/11. Only four days earlier, I had found out I was pregnant and I felt, deep within, that life was fragile indeed. Here's a video of the song, and the lyrics below it.


 by Sting

If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one
Drying in the colour of the evening sun
Tomorrow's rain will wash the stains away
But something in our minds will always stay
Perhaps this final act was meant
To clinch a lifetime's argument
That nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could
For all those born beneath an angry star
Lest we forget how fragile we are

On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are how fragile we are

On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are how fragile we are
How fragile we are how fragile we are

Potatoes Last Several Months in a Darkened Fridge

They really do. I was able to verify this fact last weekend and I felt pretty sad about it. You see, in the last week of May my in-laws left their apartment for what they thought would be a quick, ten day stay in Brazil. However, because of a misunderstanding regarding their visa renewal and the unwillingness (or incompetence) of my father-in-law's employer, they are still there, over three months later.

We stayed at their apartment last weekend when we traveled to Massachusetts and while it was convenient to be able to stay there, we missed them keenly. And what's worse is that if the employer (my FIL is a pastor) doesn't act quick, they might just not be coming back to live here anymore because my FIL is retiring soon and he can resign from his job here if it looks like they don't want him back. That's what made/makes me pretty sad. It's been three years since they moved to the U.S. and although we don't see them as much as we would like to, being 6-7 hours away by car is infinitely better than being nine long flight hours and over nine thousand miles apart.

We fully emptied their fridge (it had already been partly emptied by my youngest BIL who had been there in June) and I brought the potatoes home in the cooler, surprised that they still looked pretty edible. I used them to make some soup on Tuesday night (MIL's recipe, BTW, heart of palm soup -- you can let her know, sis)  and thought of writing this post. The soup tasted good, but the prospect of them leaving doesn't. They were planning to move back to Brazil in December anyway, but if they don't come back to the U.S. (they'd have to get another visa to come and ship their belongings, at least), it will feel pretty strange... Leaving in such strange circumstances. It may be best for them just remain in Brazil because if they come back they might end up being here through the end of next year. My father-in-law gets really depressed in winter, poor thing, so two more winters (even if only part of one next year) might be too much for him to bear, particularly now that they own an apartment in one of the most beautiful Northeastern coastal city in the Brazil, Maceio (photo worth clicking).

I guess that instead of mourning the loss of them here and their (rental) apartment in Massachusetts I should be looking forward to visiting their new apartment in Brazil, right? Throw away the potatoes, bring in the refreshing coconut water!! Yeah, that makes much more sense... :-)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cyber Schooling

I just wanted to let you know that if any of you are insterested in the cyberschooling that we started this week, I've been posting almost daily on my new blog. Here are this week's posts so far.

I'm still deciding whether I'll use the boys' names in the school blog, maybe not, so I'll be going back and editing the posts accordingly. I know this is ultimately silly because I do use their names in this blog (and I probably won't go back and change hundreds of posts and not do it from now on), but perhaps it's a step in the right direction of protecting them... oh well, from what, exactly, I don't know.

In any case, I don't intend to talk much, if at all, about cyberschooling here, OK?

Belated Breastfeeding Awareness Month Post

August was Breastfeeding Awareness Month, but I was not able to scan the picture I wanted to post on time, so here it is (further below :-).

During the past school year, Kelvin and his classmates had to write a sentence (or more, if desired) completing a prompt I'd written on the board and make an accompanying drawing. I saved all of Kelvin's pages and will put them together in a book/folder. This is what he wrote and drew when the prompt was "Dear Mother, When I was little...":

The picture portrays both of us sitting at the glider rocker and it reminded me of how important and significant our nursing relationship was for the boys and I.We often talk about it and both boys still remember nursing. 

In the past 2 years -- since Linton was weaned -- I seldom, if ever, wrote about breastfeeding in the blog anymore, but that doesn't mean that I'm a less ardent "lactivist"! I hope that someday I can find a way to work with expectant mothers and mothers of young babies because I am really passionate about them, particularly giving breastfeeding support. I don't plan on becoming a lactation consultant, so I wonder what I could do... Time will tell, I guess.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

09/09/09 and Little Women

When I was younger, like twenty years younger (yikes, it almost hurts so say that!), dates such as today's mystified me. I think that on 8/8/88 I must have written half a dozen bad, pathetic, ridiculous little poems or "things"on account of the significant date. In those years, when I was 16-18, I wrote feverishly, much like one of my favorite fictional/loosely autobiographical heroines, Jo March.

Last night I finished re-reading one of my favorite books ever, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (and I can't believe I lived in Massachusetts for eight years and haven't yet been to Concord, or Salem. Sigh. Someday, I really want to go... someday soon, preferably). And all the while I had to smile because one of my blogging friends recently wrote on facebook that she never finished the book after Jo refused Laurie. I quite like that she did that, actually. Jo's rebelliousness and, most important of all, her consistency in following her dreams and ideals, has always inspired me.

Reading the book in this particularly period of my life has made me identify strongly with certain aspects of the work. I feel the same way the four girls did (particularly Meg and Amy) about being [relatively speaking] poor. It gets old and tiring after a while, but it also does good to one's character and disposition. It's not easy to bear, though... and sometimes I feel like whining for a new TV/ car/ couches the same way Meg and Amy whined about not having any nice dresses and things. I guess one could say that the book has outdated overly "moralistic" values, what with the constant references to Pilgrim's Progress, but 150 years later, these are  values that I think the world still needs and that I personally seek to uphold in my own life.

The other aspect that resonated with me strongly is that of being changed by suffering (particularly Jo after Beth's death, but also Laurie, after being refused by Jo). I know that what we/I recently went through is nothing, really, compared with other's people's financial, health, and personal woes, but now I realize that going through this small measurement of suffering has really changed me. I'm not very happy with the change right now, but hopefully it can make me stronger in the end.

I could say many more things about this book, but now I have to go and find and read the contemporary "sequel" or "other side of the story," March, by Geraldine Brooks, one of the few books that I allowed myself to purchase last year,* but which I didn't get to read and now cannot find in my bookshelves! I'll get back to you after I read it.

Meanwhile, I should enjoy the last few hours of this most rare 09-09-09 day!!

* Remember what I just wrote about being "poor"? Not being able to buy books is one of the small burdens I have to bear -- using Alcott's imagery

Back Home, Back to School

Only school is at home right now. I've just posted about it on the other blog since today was our first day of school.

Our trip to Massachusetts was delightful and I can't wait to go back in a month and meet my dear friend's daughter who is due in two weeks. We took our Brazilian friends to meet our dearest American friends who live by the sea an hour North of Boston and we had a lovely time. It feels great to have had such a relaxing trip (except for all the traffic we got stuck on in Connecticut on the way up on Friday, sigh...) and I wish all trips were like this one.

I hope to post some photos soon (I know, I always say that, but hardly ever do, it's just that I always take photos in the highest resolution [8 megapixels] and those take ages to upload... and it's a pain to shrink them just to post on the blog... ai ai ai...). I really do need to post more photos, though... even if it takes time.

OK, I have to go to bed now... See you later!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Dreaming is the Best Medicine

Cheryl, you were spot on in your comment regarding that sad post. A little bit of dreaming can make all the difference.

That same evening after I'd written the post K came home and began to tell me about some of the academic positions that have just been advertised in his area. One in Virginia, at the school/dept. he's already applied for 3 times (and was interviewed in the first try, withdrew the second application & the third was late), another in Connecticut, another in Massachusetts, very close to where we used to live... all attractive places to us. And hopefully there will be other positions to apply to.

Although I am aware that there are always be many applicants and that K may not get a job offer in the end, I've began imagining what our lives would be like in each of those places and this has done loads of good to my heart.

We're getting ready to travel to Massachusetts where we'll spend sometime with my 8 months pregnant friend and her husband and also get to see an old time friend who lives in an Island close to where the Merrimack River meets the see. I think it'll be a delightful trip.

Next week we begin our cyberschooling adventures and... drum roll!! in the following week... music lessons for the boys (piano for Kelvin). I think I'm looking forward to the future all right. What a relief.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


It's time to give an overdue update on my uncle's situation. I finally saw him yesterday when I brought my parents to the D.C. area so they can be with him every day in the rehab center/nursing home in this last month before they go back to Brazil. It was a whirlwind trip, I drove them (and the boys) to Maryland on Sunday night and came back yesterday afternoon because I needed to "babysit" overnight for our friends.

We left pretty late on Sunday because my dad spent the day cleaning our garage, the play house/shed, the car, etc... there was no stopping him! So it took us sometime to get out of the house and drive to the rehab center. When we got there, around 11:30, my uncle was not in the room, he was having physical therapy. We were walking down the hall looking for the gym when we saw him being wheeled in our direction in his wheel chair. It was not easy to see him so helpless! He looks well, the huge scar across the right side of his face/forehead is fully healed. His hair is cropped really short, but the real shock is the closed right eye and the expressionless face. He can move his left arm well, but not the right one (the arm that broke). He moves his legs a bit, but not too much. And he cannot talk out loud, just whisper.

The boys were shy, as they always are, but my uncle immediately remarked that they were shocked. I don't think they were shocked as much as puzzled and full of questions. "Why can't he open his eye?" "Why can't he move?" "Why is he in this chair?" And so on and so forth. He was going to leave for the appointment with the orthopedic doctor, so we asked for his lunch, my mom and dad fed him and we saw him off in a van driven by a nice Hispanic woman (thankfully so because my dad went along and he doesn't speak English, but we Portuguese speakers can communicate quite well in Spanish).

Last week we learned for sure that his brain tumor (although big -- 5 cm) was benign. We suspected it, but my mom never had the courage to ask my aunt (over the phone) about the biopsy results. They had previously thought that uncle would need a pacemaker, but he actually doesn't -- he just needs one of the veins to be unobstructed (perhaps with a catheter, we don't know). And the results of yesterday's visit to the orthopedist were also positive -- his arm is healing well!

I hope that my parents' presence there can help, particularly my dad's since my uncle is his younger brother. They were sad to say goodbye to the boys, but we'll see each other in the last two weekends of the month, before they go back on the 28th.

This visit to my uncle made me think that it would be pretty important to have a living will. It must be extremely hard to be "stuck" in an alien body while (mostly) fully aware and mentally able. I hope he recovers fully. I haven't had time to research about it, but I know that the "side-effects" of brain surgery are pretty devastating -- and we can see that first hand on uncle -- but, hopefully, they can be reversed with intense therapy and time.

It was tiring to drive back by myself. The boys were watching DVDs and I felt sleepy at times. And then we had two (very nice) boys to care for in the evening -- the hardest part for me was having to speak English during dinner and after and not be able to fully relax.

We were welcomed by two huge boxes containing the books and materials for cyber-schooling, but I'll need to write about that separately, probably in the other blog.

Well, I have to go to bed, I'm tired. I'm feeling a bit better already, my friends. My heartfelt thanks for all your kind words. I'll discuss the cyberschooling issue in due time, Anjali. Great to hear from you again, Prisca! Your comment was great, motherissues, I also appreciate when other bloggers are honest about their overwhelming times, it does help a lot to realize we're all humans and undergoing some of the same hardships . Dawn and Lucy, thanks for being so supportive as always! "The internets" is just wonderful!

Giving Up? or I Think This is MORE than just Early Fall Blues

Bear with me, please, I'm really unhappy and need some blog therapy. I don't know what else to do with my life right now. The boys need to be fed, there are dishes to wash, but I need this now.

I just ate a chocolate bar, this one that I found in the kitchen (my parents bought it? I don't know), but it didn't help. But then, again, I don't much like American candy (and find really odd calling chocolate "candy" anyway, for me chocolate is chocolate, not just "candy"). I like chocolate, and doce de leite (Portuguese for the Spanish dulce de leche, which is NOT, BTW really caramel, it's something much more delicious than what you call caramel here).

I know, I'm grumpy and depressed and it's easy to become my most aggressive and annoying expatriate self. I've dreamed of starting a website for expatriates for these kinds of petty complaints. I won't share the name 'cause I really wanted to do it someday. Yeah, someday... everything in my life in my life right now is relegated to "someday." From big things to little ones.

Someday we'll have real, stable jobs and settle down somewhere...
Someday we'll afford a new tv, new couches (we have an empty family room now that we returned the borrowed ones).
Someday perhaps we'll pay our renovation debts and save enough to renovate the remaining two bathrooms.
Someday... if one of us get the aforementioned job (it doesn't need to be plural, even!) we'll put this house on the market and it will sell.
Someday... no, I don't think we can really be happy in church here.

I was just walking outside looking at my flowers, after dropping a bag in the trash and I felt really bitter. I really don't know the reason, I mean, I kind of do, but there's no one single reason I can pinpoint, but for the first time in years, many many years, and I'm crying as I write this, sobbing really, I'm NOT looking forward to the future.

That, to me, is utterly devastating. I can hardly write it, the sobs shake me so much.

I've always looked forward to the future, all my life. And, without fail, every single year has always been better than the one before. Really, you can say that it's cheesy, sappy, whatever, but my life has been consistently great, and improving. I went through school, got into college, met my husband, got married, moved to another country, started grad school, bought first house, had babies (that, was wonderful!), finished grad school... and then... last year struck (it started two years ago, to be more precise, on that fateful Halloween). Hard.

(phew, the crying has subsided, I feel a tiny bit better) -- ok, gotta go feed those two adorable boys. Hopefully I'll be able to finish later without a hitch (2:09 pm, we had a late breakfast, ok? :-) All right, 2:48, we're done eating).

I think it's just my brain's way to try to cope with the previous "unfortunate events," not only the house situation, but the latest things that shook me to my core and are partly unbloggable.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
And then there's the weather, the seasons...

All of a sudden, from last week to this one, it seems, mornings and evenings became chilly. Today is a perfect "fall day" with the sun shining brightly and the sky a perfect blue. And these things... this very same gorgeous day, terrify me! And I feel the tears welling up all over again as I continue writing.

I was already planning ahead a bit last night with K since we'll be home this fall, through Spring. "We should turn on the space heater in the office," I said to K. But I'm dreading with all my might feeling chilly every single day for over six months (being skinny is really a problem in winter, I'm always cold, particularly my feet and hands, which makes me feel miserable). I'm not even going to say I wish we could afford to keep the thermostat higher (it's usually around 60-63, 59 or lower when we're not home) because that would mean polluting the environment way more! And then I have to feel guilty for taking long hot showers and using up lots of oil as well as polluting more, so I do it every other day. It's infuriating! I'm tired of having to endure cold weather and bare trees for six months. That's not what my life was like for nearly 25 years, only for the last 13 and I don't think I'll ever get used to it. Particularly not with a constantly chilly house. :-(

And that (coupled with the troubling church problems) is when it hits me. Hard, again.
What in the world are we doing here in this country again? What? Why are we here?
My mom asked those questions over and over as she saw how devastated I was with the church/school thing (she was actually angry. And I didn't have a good, convincing answer to give her. I felt -- as I've been feeling all along -- that in spite of the few problems and setbacks, that I'm happy with my life in this country, that I enjoy living here, that that's where I'm/we're meant to be right now. I'm no longer convinced of this, though. My despondent attitude about the future -- something so unlike me! -- is a strong indicator that perhaps we should seriously consider giving up our expatriate life. I'm nearly giving up. I keep saying I want to wait "four more years" for the citizenship, but... is it worth it?

Perhaps the days will pass and I will somehow recapture my joy of living, my positive attitude towards the future. Perhaps this will really be a mild winter as some forecasters indicate (K told me that they're saying it'll be another "El Niño" Winter) and that our 40 day trip to Brazil will help, but, right now, I'm not looking forward to anything. Frankly.

I can also blame it on the upcoming cyberschooling and the pressure that K is putting on me to "have a real schedule and real school days" or it'll all go down the drain. I'm confident that the boys and I can handle it, that the content of 2nd grade (perhaps some 3rd grade materials if it all becomes to easy for Kelvin) and, most of all, kindergarten are manageable and won't take that many hours a day (in school last year the kids would be done in less than 3 hours -- we did have less subjects, but still...). If you know me (I don't know how much I've written about this on the blog, probably quite a bit), you'll know that I DREAD routine, schedules, systematic daily planning and K has been making me feel awful by emphasizing these very things.

So, yeah, all these things combined... the fact that we just had the hardest problem of our lives (the whole house situation and all the fall out from K having decided to quit his job last year) then all these church troubles this summer have taken their toll on us. Poor K is going to have three jobs this Fall (his regular postdoc gig, adjunct teaching at a local university, and consulting to another researcher) so we can try to climb out of the hole we find ourselves in (some debt) and the pressure on me to deliver on the house/ home/cyber school front is almost unbearable. I frankly don't know if I can handle it the way K expects me to. And that is killing me too. It's just too much and I can't shake the depression, the negative feelings and the dread about the future. I can't even feel any anticipatory joy about the trip to Brazil! I can only think of how we can manage to pay the airfare (even though it's not that bad, with the two award travel tickets and all).

Sigh. I'm sorry for the terribly long and negative post. I can't even say it helped to write it. I'll have K read it, poor guy, since I can't talk about some of these things without going almost berserk (oh, boy! I could swear it was "beserk" not berserk -- oh, how I hate these little mistakes I make in any language, not just English, Portuguese too... I generally pride myself in my almost flawless spelling -- ha ha ha, just to show I don't know anything).

All right, let me hit publish before I change my mind (just kidding).