Wednesday, June 30, 2010

14 Expatriate Years

Ten days ago, on June 20th, was our 14th "anniversary" as expatriates in this country.

We arrived from Brazil with student visas and kept on studying, and staying, and here we are.

There are no regrets, I think we made the right decision, there are only a few little things that we could have changed here and there.

The one thing K regrets is that he could have done his PhD research in one of the top ranked department in polymer science in the country (that's not his area, so I can name it, no problem), but he didn't because back then we were supposed to go back to Brazil and he couldn't possible pursue research in that area in the small college we were going back to. It turns out we never went back because the sponsorship we had ended and K went on to a postdoc while I finished my own degree.

Oh well... there's nothing K can do about that now! Except to hope that he will able to write grants and get funding to continue doing research in the area he's currently working on. So he can get tenure. All fingers crossed for six (or seven if we move) years and lots of hard work. I hope it pays off. Or else... oh no, we don't want to think about that.

Fourteen years is a long time and at this point I don't think I want to go back to Brazil anymore. If anyone told me ten years ago that I'd be saying this today, I would have become FURIOUS! :-) "NO WAY!" I would have said, "I want to go back to Brazil, I don't like it here!"

Well, I guess time does change things, doesn't it?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I cannot believe...

... that my boys watched much more of the game between Japan and Paraguay today (we were cheering for Japan, the team with less tradition in World Cups) than Brazil playing against Chile yesterday. Sigh.

Well, at least it seems they're getting more interested in soccer already. Kelvin wanted the teams to tie so he could see a decision with penalty kicks and he got his wish. Too bad Japan lost. Linton was really upset about that. He kept saying that if he were a Japanese player he'd hit a Paraguayan player. I guess he's not ready to play a sport just yet -- he's still got to learn a few lessons about sportsmanship and about not being a sore loser.

I guess they'll be upset if Brazil loses on Friday. Oh well...

Monday, June 28, 2010

I have one wish for the next World Cup

I hope my boys are old enough to watch the games with me/us, instead of complaining that they want to watch something else on Nick Jr. or any other channel! :-(

I have no choice but to put a DVD on the computer or let them play games on the ipod, or whatever keeps them entertained...

Next World Cup they'll be 12 and 10 respectively and maybe they'll be soccer players by then (we'll probably get Linton to play this year already) and more interested in the game.

I was 11 in 1982 -- the first World Cup I remember watching (retrospective post here) -- and my brother was 8 and we watched most games. But then, again, there was the HUGE media hype that Globo television did in Brazil and which left us very tuned into the World Cup. Plus, Brazil had a "dream team" that year... Sigh. Zico, Falcão, Sócrates, Eder, Serginho, etc. I knew the whole line-up by heart (see pages from my journal in that post).

So, yeah, probably the boys will watch in four years. Where will I be in four years? Will I still be blogging? Probably, for me and three other readers ;-).

Of course you know where the World Cup will be in four years:
We're hoping to be there to watch -- maybe even go to the stadium, who knows? (that will be pretty impossible, I guess). Being in Brazil for any World Cup is great (streets decorated, etc), but it will probably we even greater in four years. Now, I hope Brazil X Holland next Friday is a similar game to the same face off in 1994 (we won, obviously, but it was a very nervous game!).

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Tale of Two Games - Brazilians Watching the World Cup

This (exactly a week ago):Was way better than that:
And after the game was over (we were watching together before an under the sea themed first birthday party) we even took more photos to celebrate the occasion:
Last Friday I watched the game at home with my family and we looked more or less like this (photo taken last Sunday too at our friend's house -- K is hidden on purpose for the blog):
Now, for tomorrow's game -- one in which Brazil could be eliminated, I'll be here by myself with the boys. :-( I hope we don't lose or else I won't have anyone to give me emotional support. ;-) Good thing there's the internet to "save" me from complete loneliness. Go Brazil!!

P.S. I'm working on a post about soccer and the U.S. I hope to finish it before the World Cup is over! ;-)

Questions Without Answers

How many things won't I have time to unpack or find before it's time to pack again if we move a year from now?

When will I find the things that are missing and we need?

Will I ever finish unpacking? (probably not, see first question)

How in the world will I be able to unpack without letting the boys spend countless hours watching tv or playing computer games (or Wii, which in the end they hardly ever play)?

Why oh why are toys so useless? (this has meant to be a whole post for years now, but I haven't been able to write it. Once in a while their toys do get played with, it's a never-ending cycle)

Why does my precocious "pre-teen" eight year old have to keep saying that he's bored and there's nothing to do?

Maybe unpacking the books (and some of the toys) would help, but how will I find the time without first brain-killing these boys ;-). See, I made a pile of books that weren't supposed to be packed so Kelvin could read them, but obviously that in the end they were packed and are as good as gone! HELP!

Why do I still feel so sad about the cat? (ok, that one has obvious answers, I don't want to ask the unanswerable ones here)

well... the list of questions that I could keep on asking today is endless, so I'll just stop for now.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Zeroed or, in the path of "financial freedom"

I didn't want to write that last part of the title because for whatever reason I can't stand Suze Orman, though all she says is true and much needed to be "preached." It's just that K keeps on saying that about us and it's true too. Sigh1.

I forgot to tell you, however, that a week ago K sold the Mazda and we're officially the family with the two crappy Hondas who will need to rent a car for every trip until we buy a newer car. Sigh2.

Now that you know the bad part, on to the good part: we have now paid down both of our credit cards (around 10K each) and we're starting again from scratch. Literally "scratching" out over ten years' worth of savings from our lives -- that last house gobbled it all up in its greedy fix-me-up-or-else appetite. Sigh3.

That alone should cure me forever of my own "appetite" for a big house with a large lawn with mature trees and enough bedrooms to accommodate the whole family when they come to visit once every three years and playset and "play house" for the boys. And plenty of room for gardening. Sob.

I'm really sorry that I'm not being my happy normal self, but this whole cat-gone-missing thing and feeling pretty lonely in our new location plus a horrible head cold & allergy to the dust mites in the hundreds of clothes & linen we're putting away which left me with a lovely sinus infection are not helping much.

As usual, I have tons that I want and could be blogging about. Years worth of photos. World cup stuff (Brazil played horribly today, BTW), etc. but I'm doing "blog reading therapy" and reading and commenting on other blogs instead. Hopefully it'll help improve my style a bit, who knows.

And now that there's the possibility of moving again next year, I -- newly moved -- am already thinking of everything in terms of "first and simultaneously last" time. When it comes to moving, Fang (Leslie M-B's husband) describes all the feelings involved much better than I ever could in this post.

So, yeah, that financial freedom thing? K says we're on the right path to it now (we were doing good in the past, but got sidetracked by aforementioned house). We'll save to make a down payment and hopefully buy a cheap(er) house in a couple of years and pay it off ASAP.

Someday I'll have a garden again... and a cat. It was just that six years of gardening and nine years of cat ownership have left me a little spoiled, you know? yeah. That's why I'm not that excited about all this sudden "freedom" we have ('cause not having a pet does feel pretty liberating, only in a very sad way for me).

All right. Time to go to bed. Way past, actually, as usual.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Roller-Coaster Ride's Not Over Yet! ;-)

That elusive interview is up!

So, there's a real possibility that we'll spend a year at #3 and go on to #2.* K's first words when he got the email earlier today were: "And now, as if our lives weren't complicated enough, there's this!" To which I replied, that I don't think it's really complicated, that it will just make sense to me now that we're renting this small place and "waiting on the wings" instead of settling here. This is what we prepared for psychologically for a month before we suddenly had to find a rental and sign a lease -- at which point here became more "real" than the fuzzy there.

The very interesting thing is that we're headed there next week, for the worldwide conference of our church that happens every five years. We'll be helping out my mother-in-law with one of her tour groups from Brazil. (I should have blogged about this, she's just finishing tonight a one week tour of the West Coast that included L.A., San Francisco, Yosemite, Las Vegas, and the Grand Canyon, with 90 people tagging along, 55 in a chartered bus. They'll be headed for Orlando next week. It was the craziest thing my entrepreneurial MIL ever did and I booked the hotels for all these people and more. Things are going well so far, except for a lady who had to return from Brazil -- she was having problems with her post-mastectomy implant [?!]).

Anyway... I'm so looking forward to this short trip now! Maybe we could try to get together with Anjali and her family! Initially, we were going to stay only Friday-Sunday, but maybe we'll go earlier, or stay on Monday, I don't know.

K's interview, BTW, is going to be during his very first week at the job here. You know, it's because of tricky things like these that I blog semi-anonymously and also try to be very sketchy with our locations. He has already called the chair of the search committee (a friend and collaborator of his) and both the email and their conversation actually mentioned possible starting dates, so this is very real, not "just one more interview."

I'm excited. I was upset about the cat and because of little things such as not being able to hang my huge Monet print above our bed (we'll try not to make big holes in this rental's house because the owner is really nice, but very fastidious), but now I'm looking forward to future possibilities. It's funny what's the thing that I look forward to the most: K's future sabbatical year. We want to take the family to Europe while he researches there!!! Let's see what happens.

And just in case there's no offer, no problem, K already has a job! and we like it here.

P.S. when looking for the ratings post linked to above I realized that I've already written 80 posts labeled "job search." That's a whole lotta searching!

*in practice they're #2 & #1 because Orlando was just a "fun" location, not really a serious possibility.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Two Weeks... still grief stricken, I wanted closure...

I found out on Sunday when we met with our Brazilian friends in Philly, that Blues actually disappeared on 6/8, two full weeks ago. My friend actually talked to her neighbors and walked around the neighborhood looking for him. She also left the door slightly open for a few nights, in hopes that he might come back in.

I feel bad that I didn't make a flyer and went there to put it on lamp posts and stuff, but I was almost 2 hours away and I didn't want to bother my friends. I just emailed a flyer to a friend (I made one on Sunday), so maybe they will put it up. I know I should also call or have called the local animal shelters and maybe vets. I really don't think these things will help much, though, so I don't have the energy to do it (I have this weird problem with calling strangers, one of my neuroses, I guess). It's just been too long. Someone probably just took him in, since he's a gorgeous cat.

Last night I cried again for a few minutes and today I've felt upset when I saw two friend's updates & photos on facebook (a photo of M's son napping with the cat and an update by Aliki saying that her son was glad to be going home to their cat). :-(

I think the worse thing about Blues having gone missing is the lack of closure. One of the first things K said to me on the phone was "I prefer him disappearing like that than having one day to put him down," but I disagree with a vengeance. I wanted to be able to say good-bye, to know what happened to him. If he were dead, I'd bury him somewhere, you know. Closure is important. So, yeah... I'm just missing him so much right now.

When I made the flyer, I found that I'd taken tons of recent photos of him, from March to now (we bought this laptop in January, so I don't have any older photos here). I know there are probably hundreds more since 2003 when we got the digital camera and at some point I'll put them all together. That will be painful.
I'm crying writing this post and looking at the photos. I drove by a cat adoption place in town today and I felt just devastated because we won't get another kitty until we own a house again. In the meantime, whenever anyone mentions a pet I'll just cry inside a little more. Today Kelvin and I were sad because he was talking about his latest obsession (he wants us to get a Wii Fit Plus) and he mentioned that it has a feature to weight cats and dogs. He looked grief stricken and said, "Too bad we don't have a cat anymore. But I can still create an avatar for him."

A virtual pet will have to do for now, I guess.

Monday, June 21, 2010

I tried

Last night I tried to write a post by sending a text message to blogger during our drive back (I had it set up ahead of time), but it obviously didn't work. Oh well...

We're back home and just had our cable upgraded so we can watch the world cup -- YAY! Yesterday I had a very different Brazilian team game watching experience. I'll blog about it soon.

It's HOT here, and a mess inside this house. Sigh. Hopefully we'll make some progress this week since K is staying home. More later, K? Chile is playing Switzerland and, for the first time in my life, I think (in the previous game too), I'm supporting the team of the country in which I was accidentally born but for which I don't have (and never have had) citizenship: Switzerland.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Loneliest World Cup Watching Experience EVER

Watching the Brazilian national team play in the World Cup is something you do with friends and family in Brazil. It's a social event. The country STOPS for each game. The streets are empty, only the poor bus drivers drive up and down by themselves, the radio blaring.

That's how it was for me today, though:
So so sad!

I can't believe North Korea ended up scoring a goal. But Brazil still won. 2 X 1

I would have posted this much earlier, but it took me quite a while to figure out how to access my cell phone photos online. I tried to blog a photo, but the photos from my cell phone are too big (3.2 mpixels). OK. Well, in any case I'm thankful that ESPN and Univision are streaming the games live online. Thanks media outlets! You're saving my life as a world cup fan ;-).

Well, I waited all day long for this game -- dropping boys of at their activities and picking them up, helping prepare lunch. Good thing they had a community service day in town today so I could stay and watch the game. Phew! More Brazil next Sunday!

Devastated... My kitty has gone missing

It's just too difficult to write this post. I'm at a public place and I just can't start bawling loudly and I just might. Looking at photos of him just makes it even more unbearable. I had no idea I'd be this devastated when it happened. I'm crying all the time. It's just awful.
Blues is gone and it's partly our fault. First, he doesn't have a collar and tags because I thought it would be uncomfortable for him and never got him one. Second, whenever we travel, we leave him at friends' houses. We used to leave him at a friends' apartment in New Jersey (we did that four or five times) and he was fine, then it was at another friend's row house in North Philadelphia. We left him there twice (both times for over a month) and this time too. We were aware of the risk of him escaping, but it had never happened (I mean, he'd gone out but had come back), but this time it did. He escaped last Thursday, but our friend only called us yesterday afternoon.I was driving when K called, but fortunately I had just turned to go to Target. I could barely talk on the phone with K so I hung up and just started sobbing, wailing loudly. Kelvin hugged me, dear son (he loved Blues dearly too), while Linton talked incessantly, thinking of solutions (the best one he came up with was "pray about it").

What's making me literally inconsolable is the bad timing. So "convenient" from the outside, which makes me really, really angry. You see... nine years ago we bought a house in February. Then in April we found out a kitten had been born and he joined our family in May. A tiny little thing. He was my first "son." Now, we're no longer home-owners. That part of our lives is taking an unfortunate break. It was hard to convince our landlord (and the rental company we had signed off previously too) to accept the cat. We paid a deposit. K actually wanted to give him away because the townhome is just too small (it is, he's right). And it has carpet throughout (the boys are actually allergic to cats). Now the cat will never even enter that house.

Every time we travel and Blues stays with someone, when we come back I don't feel at home until we go pick him up. He's never coming back. How am I ever going to feel at home at the new place knowing he's gone? Are we even going to get another cat because of the boys' allergy and the fact that there are no houses with hardwood floors throughout in our price range in VA? So I'm just crying on and off. Walking into the grocery store and glancing at the pet's section makes me cry again. I slept and dreamed that he came back (to our old house which we hadn't yet finished emptying even though the new owners already bought it).

So, yeah. To put things in perspective, I know, it's only a pet. I cannot imagine, it's unfathomable really, how infinite the grief must be when one loses a child like Katie Alison Granju just did. Still, the grief I feel is very real. I know other pet owners will understand.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The World Cup!!

I grew up watching the world cup every four years and I love watching soccer (at least every 4 years). Too bad I won't be able to watch too much this first week because we'll be living in a tent for a week -- we're going to a state-wide camp meeting so the boys can spend one last week with their friends before we consider ourselves completely "moved" to VA.

I hope I can find more contacts on twitter to twitter the games together. ;-) Some of you will probably want to unfollow me if I do that, no? Maybe I'll set up a new account for twittering the World cup in Portuguese, yeah, I guess I'll do that!

Anyone out there watches the world cup too?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Texting my way into the 21st century

Until very recently, I think I'd never sent more than one text message in my life, but things have changed dramatically in the last 24 hours since we've had our new "smart capability" phones (this one, to be exact). Edited to add: we also have unlimited texting in our new/carrier & plan, or else I wouldn't be texting.

Of course the great majority of the 100+ (counting incoming) text messages in my phone right now were sent/received by my oldest son (who jumped for joy when we showed the phone we were getting ;-), but I'm proud to say that I sent lots of them too.

Texting is just so practical! It took only a handful of text messages to "book" a haircut with this blogger whom Ï hadn't seen for around three years! YAY for another blogger meet up facilitated by technology ;-).

So, yeah, I'll be an avid "texter" from now on. Anyone wants to "text with me" (this sounds really weird, doesn't it?).

Oh, and I may be twittering more too, now that I can do it through texting, on the go (gotta figure out how to set that up). Too bad -- mostly for my son who would love to spend countless hours online on the go too -- we have a very limited data plan. Better something than nothing (wait a minute, that's not how the saying go, right? I think this is a saying in Portuguese, not in English. Oh well... whatevah... ! ;-)

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Stuff is in, Strength is out

On Saturday night dear friends came (having driven down from PA earlier that day), accompanied by his brother and brother's son and their teenage son and in two hours flat we emptied the truck. Now the hard part will be unpacking everything. The living room already looks WAY better than above, as does the kitchen (which is almost done):I'll post "after" photos when we're done, OK? Now I have to go get some sleep so I can continue the unpacking in the morning. Sigh.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Below the Mason-Dixon Line

Perhaps you'd think that, as an expatriate, what should I care about the "North" & "South" divide in this country, right? However, I've lived here long enough now to wonder, and almost to worry, about what is life going to be like for someone who's been up North for fourteen years to come live in the South.

Well, I guess I've had a gradual "descent" with 8 years in Massachusetts then 6 years in Pennsylvania before moving to Virginia and that should help. I suppose that were we to move further South (Atlanta), one year here would probably be helpful too. ;-)

I guess that in a way, moving this time means "reliving" (in a much smaller degree), "the mother of all moves" -- when we left Brazil to come to the U.S. (I've got to try to post about that, I'll try to make it on or around our "expatriate anniversary" on June 20).

This country really is the United States of America -- when you cross state lines you can feel the difference already on the highway, the signs, existence or absence of billboards, etc. Things look and feel different. This is still fascinating to me all these years after moving to this country.

I didn't arrive here until 5:30 p.m. (K left PA at 6 am so he could be here for the cable guy at 11) and I had a most disastrous welcome! There was a cop on our new street, just one block from our townhome and I wasn't thinking about my speed -- I got distracted when I saw the truck trailer parked in front of the house (I was so glad to be finally "home" again, after 24h+ of homelessness) -- but she caught me.

It turns out the limit on this street is 25 and I was going 41 (I truly didn't know the limit and wasn't paying attention to the signs). Now I have a court date and I'm guessing that won't get points, but I'll still have to pay (that's what happened when I got my one and only speeding ticket back in PA years ago -- the cop literally told me to go to court for that 'cause they were there doing a "drive" or something to make some money).

I was so upset when I was prevented from getting to my new house and had to wait for a long time for the cop to fill the huge form! I called K and he came to get the boys. By the time the lady came, I had calmed down and wasn't so angry. Sigh. She was nicer too. So, yeah... I'm glad the street has such a low limit b/c it'll be good for the boys (riding their bikes on the parking lot, etc) and I'll be careful from now on.

We had no idea, but we live only a few hundred yards from the elementary school (our kids are going to go to a private school 10 minutes away). It's just around the corner, across the street, and it has a really nice playground. I'm so thrilled we found this house and aren't going to live in the other neighborhood!!

I don't know yet how the radical downsizing (2500 sq. ft. to around 1100) is going to go, but I think we'll live ;-).

More later because I really, really need to sleep. I'm glad to be home, though. With our stuff waiting on the parking lot to be unloaded (friends are coming from PA tomorrow to help). Thinks are falling into place... what a relief!

Friday, June 04, 2010

Back to Where We Started

In 2001, nine years ago, we had been able to save ten thousand dollars and we used it as a down payment on our first house.

We made around 60K when we sold it in 2004 (of course a significant portion went towards commission, closing costs etc) and we used most of it to buy our second house (down payment and closing).

We also sold our second house with a nice profit (over 70K, perhaps?) in 2007 and then bought our third house which was way more expensive than the first two (triple the value of the first, double the second). K also used part of the money to buy the Mazda 3.

The rest of the story is history -- K lost his job, went back and then decided to go back to academia. The house was a fixer upper which needed tons of work (siding, roof, flooring, etc) and although we couldn't afford the renovations, we had to do them anyway in order to put the house on the market. That meant some (cc) debt that we've been "rolling over" switching from one zero interest card to another. Our trip to Brazil and other expenses caused debt on another card -- one we've been paying interest on.

In sum, this was the situation we found ourselves in when we put our house on the market a second time this year (last year it didn't sell and we applied for a mortgage renegotiation).

The result? We came away from the closing with exactly the 10K we had nine years ago when we bought our first house. I've already paid the first cc and as soon as the car sells we're paying the second one.

We're going to start again from scratch now and hopefully we'll succeed. We've been very fortunate in all this and whatever wrong decisions we've made have been OK in the long run.

OK, gotta go to bed because we're traveling to VA tomorrow morning (we decided not to go today, we're just too tired). I'm glad that this part of the move is over and... you know, I think I'm almost looking forward to unpacking! (I may be out of my mind right now! :-D ).

Thursday, June 03, 2010

No More, 2007-2010

I don't know exactly how I feel about it now. I didn't allow myself to cry, although I felt like crying on and off all day and night yesterday. One thing is for sure: I'm beyond exhausted. We went to bed either 3 or 4 am from Saturday to Tuesday night and then last night we dropped off the boys at a friends' house and went back to the house at 11:30 pm and only left at 5:20 am this morning when we finally managed to finish loading the two cars and cleaning the house (particularly the kitchen which was a mess!). We slept from 6-11 am, but we're still tired.

Now we still have tons of things to do and we wanted/needed to drive down to VA tonight. We don't know whether everything went well with the closing just yet, I hope everything was fine. K is on the phone -- oh, OK, things are fine, it's just that the routing number we provided for the wiring of the money doesn't work and we had to find out the right one. Phew!

No more homeownership for now, but I hope that in one or, at most, two years we have a house again. More later.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Birthday Boy & The "Moving" Party

A chaotic moving day (OK, the first of several "moving days" we're having here) prevented me from posting on my son's birthday, May 30th, when he turned 6 years old.

It doesn't feel quite right to celebrate the life of a beloved son when another mother (Katie Allison Granju) has just lost hers, but I think he deserves it.

He was born on a hot Sunday and his birthday fell on a Sunday this year too, hotter than that one back in 2004. I was unable to throw a party for him, but in the end, I think his day was funner than any party he could have had.

It definitely felt like a party. The two cousins had been here since the night before when the boys went to bed really late (and their parents, with the exception of BIL, who had driven for 7 hours that day, almost didn't go to bed -- K, D & I worked until 4 am) and on Sunday they went to "work" early, riding their bikes, playing on the swings, playing the Wii. Then the friends who were helping us load the truck started coming bringing along three boys and a teenage girl. They played lots (see above), but the day's highlight was this "train" or "roller-coaster" with the three office chairs going down the sloping driveway (BIL's idea). Check it out:

I ordered pizza for everyone (only the second time in my whole life I ordered pizza for a group of people at home -- the first was when we unloaded our things with church friends back in 2007) and after we ate (with lemonade), I went to the store and got a Carvel cake so we could sing happy birthday:
Later on, when most friends had left and one more family had come to help, we turned the sprinkler on for the boys to play (the plan was to fill up a plastic pool BIL had brought, but it was too late for that) and that's when the first photo of the post was taken. One more view of the birthday boy happily squinting in the late afternoon sun:I love you so much, baby, you're so precious (and you know it too!). I can't believe you're already six, my big boy, going to first grade! I hope you enjoyed your birthday!

Weird -- SS Administration Says I'm Underage

This is one of the weirdest things that has ever happened in my life as an expatriate in this country. I've been dealing with various service providers (electric, cable, etc) in six addresses for fourteen years and this has never happened before.

We're moving to Virginia, right, so I'm calling the electric company to have service switched to my name in our rental house and they asked me for my social security number. After a while, the young woman on the other end came and told me: "This social security number indicates an underage person" WHAT?

OK, I did get my social back in 1996 when we moved here (as a matter of fact, it's really cute that K and I have almost matching SS #s, just like our cell phone numbers and, coincidentally, the last number on his cell and his SS is 2 and mine is 3 for both!), so if they think that this number belongs to a person born in 1996, then it would be an underage kid, yes. However, I was born 25 years before that! I explained this to her and she's checking.

And now I'm just thinking the same thing will happen if I get the account to be opened in K's name, so I hope it gets sorted out (I'm on hold on the phone still). I'll let you know what happens.