Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Writing My Wrongs -- Part II

As I continue the process of getting back into dissertation writing, I realize that I have more problems than those explained in my first post on this subject. Both "external" and "inner" problems. I guess this will become an ongoing series here in the blog. :)

It was so good to hear from some of you regarding these problems. I was most impressed by David's final remark in his comment: "I used to think that my diss. avoidance was largely about being afraid of failure. More and more nowadays, I think what I'm more afraid of is success." I learned a lot from your latest post on the subject, David, and I want to respond to it on another post.

"External Problems:"
I don't want to whine too much about my relationship with my readers (ABD Mom/Professing Mama later regretted the things she wrote about her advisor, so I'm refraining from writing very negative things), but feedback from one of them literally blocks my writing. I have written about it before, but I'll think more before I write again, so I don't regret what I write. You can check some posts on this subject on my "Dissertatin'/ Dissertation updates" category/ post label.

"Inner Problems:"
Academic Writing
I haven't really been taught how to write academically. This was one aspect that was lacking from my otherwise excellent college education in Brazil. My writing classes were the lowest level classes in my English degree classes at the University of São Paulo (largest in Latin America) -- the literature classes were great, we even read Derrida and studied deconstruction in the last year. The plunge into graduate school here in the U.S. didn't contribute much to it either.

For one, I never studied writing here in the U.S. As you can probably tell from my blog, I have a great proficiency in English, oh, and I'm not modest about that either (the TOEFL was the most "stupid" exam I ever had to take, it's a long story, but I ended up taking it three times back in 1998 -- two written, and the last, a pilot test for the online version, and I got perfect scores every time). This proficiency (I have often been complimented for my spoken English as well) didn't help because I never sought help or went to audit writing classes in the English dept.

This makes me very rebellious against academic language and writing -- here is a HUGE post from last ytear in which I question "what's the use" of getting a Ph.D. in the first place, all because of problems with writing. I wasn't trained to write academically it, and yet, I can write well, so, why do I have to fit in? Why do I have to write things the way it has to be written? I just hate that I have to conform in order to get a Ph.D. -- but David, in relationship to habit adverseness, I'm not going to change just because of the dissertation, oh no!!

Practical consequences of this writing problem, which actually may stem from a "thinking problem" -- I don't know how to think academically in the clichéd way that we're supposed to thing:

- I can't think of thesis statements or my argument before beginning my research projects. I love to do these sweeping historical overviews that have little point and are centered mostly in a common theme, or in gender (the case of my dissertation -- sorry, I don't want to be more specific).

- I can't stand theory and I do an AWFUL job summarizing all the different sources I have and not using too many quotes. I have a hard time with synthesizing other's people's arguments, with abstracting just the essence of their point.

- I tend to cite too much. When I find an author or source that's really illuminating to me, I just can't just write their point in my own words (see previous item -- I don't summarize well).

- I SUCK at writing conclusions. Since I have no thesis to begin with, I have a hard time to articulate my contributions, just in very general terms.

Broadness and Ambitiousness of Research Projects
I'm a bit crazy where research is concerned. I like to do huge overviews, but then have a hard time drawing conclusions, obviously.

Two examples. In my very first semester as a "non-degree student" here (before I was accepted into grad school), I took a class about Slavery in Brazil. My final project? Analyze the image of slavery (characters who were slaves or Black) in TEN NOVELS written before the abolition of slavery in Brazil (1888). The paper that resulted was really bad, because, in the words of the professor, it read like a long list.

So, in my next "overly ambitious" project with her, I put all the data into a chart and then wrote the paper interpreting it, and it worked better. This paper was an examination of all references to music (singing, musical instruments, operas, musical language and images) in ALL THE WORKS by Machado de Assis, who is considered the greatest Brazilian writer. I browsed through nine novels, all his stories and most newspaper crônicas found in his collect works, and typed up all the references, categorizing them (see parentheses above). I had lots of fun, and I hope to get this published someday. (Isn't this an interesting project, Jeannette?)

My dissertation is something similar, just crazy, it's two or more dissertations rolled into one. I have several chapters which are 50 pages long. I think that without the appendices, it'll have over 200 pages, like 400 or more with the appendices (mostly tables with the data collected).

Did I mention that I'm way too prolix to boot? Yeah, that you already know!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

New (Industrial) Developments!!

(first, don't forget to check the previous post that I wrote this morning. I'd appreciate your feedback)

No, there haven't been any job offers yet... but, something very exciting is going on.

It happened so quickly we can hardly believe it's real! Last Wednesday my husband (let's call him K form now on, OK?) saw a job announcement at a pharmaceutical industry which happens to be in the region where we live. Coincidentally, we have a friend who works there and on Thursday K contacted him. On Friday, our friend emailed K's resume to the hiring manager, also leaving a voice-mail and saying very good things about K.

Yesterday morning, K opened his email and... lo and behold, there was an email from the hiring manager scheduling a phone interview for today at noon. The phone interview went GREAT and K now has an on-site interview in two weeks. With the director of research, who's coming from the U.K. WOW! (I find this is all very interesting, eerily connected to the new "industrial developments" that have been happening to Articulate Dad as well).

And K's lab mate (who also happens to be from Brazil), the one who had 5 interviews, received THREE job offers today, three!!! (since he's not one of us and you don't know his background, I'll say where: Emory, Duke, and Boulder).

Amazing, huh? Well, decisions will have to be made. I hope it's soon our turn!

First Step: Admitting My Problems

So, here are some of the problems that plague me in my dissertation writing. I had originally written "guilt" in the title, but that's way too strong, and I'm not really "guilty" for having been born with certain personality traits. Of course I still have to learn to deal with them and overcome them at least as far as writing the dissertation is concerned. I realize that some of these things are problems for most people, not just who need to write a dissertation, but I still want to address them.

Problems from "outside"

- I'm away from campus.
I've moved 3 and a half years ago. It takes me 6 hours to drive to campus. I've been there only 3 times to address dissertation problems

- I don't get electronic feedback (I have to wait for it to come in the mail).
This makes it harder mostly because of the time. My advisor says he'll annotate electronically the latest drafts, but he didn't want to do it with the earlier ones. In addition to this problem one reader has asked for hard copies, but I really can't afford to print them out at home. Our wonderful department secretary has told me she can print them out for me. YAY! That'll be such great help!

- No $ for childcare and preschool for the boys.
This is a hard one and I've already addressed this problem briefly in a previous post. That's where my parents come in to help.

As you see, I have help, or solutions even, for some of the "external" problems, but the "internal" ones are harder to deal with.

"Inner" Impediments/"Impairments" -- personality wise

- I'm a "habit adverse" person.
I used this expression once in a comment to Academic Coach, and Mary liked it. This is a serious problem for me, which makes me literally unable to follow most of the advice of great books such as Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day (Bolker). I can't stand routines and planning of my daily life, I love to be spontaneous. I have to admit, though, that having scheduled things, like classes to teach or attend, is helpful and feels "healthy" to me, so that means that I should have something to structure my life.

- I don't like to set goals, make resolutions, plan my course of action.
This is part of the previous one, but I decided to make it a separate item. Basically, I don't like to make resolutions and then not to keep them. I'm smart enough not to set myself up for disappointment, since I hate to be disappointed (who doesn't? ;). Of course I do love to plan for future events, travel, parties, vacations, etc, but planning on a daily, weekly, monthly basis, particularly for the dissertation is hard.

Last year and the year before I did set up deadline for myself (I even had them in my sidebar), but that's how they worked: I sent my advisor whatever I had achieved by the deadline. That worked great, but that's not what I need now, that I need to turn in completed drafts of chapters. I know I'll NEED to set goals and fulfill them if I want to finish.

- I need external pressure and deadlines imposed by other people.
This is an obvious consequence of the previous item and this time (as in the past year of working: Sept 05-Aug 06) , my only external deadline comes from my parents, who will be traveling to China in May and want me to finish before then. Being able to participate in the commencement would be a great deadline, but I'm so discouraged because I have only two months to get done (defend and submit the diss to the graduate school) that I'm just thinking it's not going to work... I feel sad about that, but I know it's "my fault" that I may not participate. I feel stupid, but just that fact that I depend from other people's feedback and willingness to work with me so I can reach the deadline stops me cold in my tracks. Fear of failure again... (but I didn't even talk about this issue yet!)

- I'm a huge procrastinator.
The less said about that the better. I just hate that about me... and I know that most people have this problem. I guess it's just a "human thing" and those that don't suffer from it are the exception, the "super humans" or whatever.

- Dispersiveness
A kind of "ADD" that's part and parcel of my personality. Of course I don't really have ADD, but sometimes I feel I do... I just can't concentrate on something for long, I ADORE multitasking and I'm pretty good at eat. It doesn't help much when cleaning the house and writing a dissertation, though. That's why the house is generally messy and I haven't finished yet.

- Perfectionism
HA -- that's a big problem. I have to convince myself that I have to stop fine tuning my research results and feeling guilty about all the sources I haven't read and work on turning it a "defendable dissertation" regardless of whether it's all I wanted it to be or not. It's very hard not to follow my perfectionist vein in every step of the process. (My perfectionism even prevents me from posting more often here. If a post is not finished to my liking, or doesn't have all the photos that I want to include, it takes a long time to be posted).

- I'm afraid of failure, so have problems with receiving feedback.
I'm the kind of person who loathes being criticized and/or reprimanded, scolded. I always try to do everything right because of that, little things like, e.g. not making turns in other people's driveways , or other things. I just feel completely devastated if I'm reprimanded for anything, no matter how little and silly.

This makes receiving feedback something EXCRUCIATING for me. I feel bad about that... I mean, is this caused by my "pride" in the "excellence" of my work? I always did well and excelled, and:

- I've never been taught to rewrite or edit and I don't like to do it.
This is probably related to the previous one. I think I've gotten much better on this since I started, but it's still hard for me. I value every single word that I write, it takes so much for me to sit down and write them in the first place that it's very hard to have to cut lots and lots of things and edit my writing. (Blogging has been helping me with editing -- I always go back and edit my posts... oh, well, it's tied with the "perfectionist" thing, I realize. If I'm a perfectionist, it editing and rewriting shouldn't be a problem for me, should it? Go figure).

I'm sure I may have forgotten some things, but I wanted to put this out there. As Cloudscome commented in the previous dissertation post, blogging can be very helpful. By the way, thanks for your support everyone! It means a lot to me to know other people are out there rooting for me!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Drizzle, Snow, and Poetry -- for Jo(e)

Note: I know I shouldn't be writing another post during the weekend, when people aren't reading much, so please don't forget to check my previous post -- it took me over a month to finish and post it!

I wrote a poem once, many years ago, about the drizzle (garoa) that falls in São Paulo, and which is (or used to be) considered one of the typical things of the city. I had just taken a class on the modern poets of Brazil and read the poetry of Mário de Andrade who mentions São Paulo's drizzle several times in his poems (he also often refers to the Italian immigrants of the city, hence the word I use there).

I’m not a good poet, but here’s the poem, in Portuguese with my own English translation below. The word drizzle is beautiful in Portuguese: garoa. I don’t like it very much in English (drizzle), though.

Note: the formatting is going to be lost for both poems. I really like to play with indentations and to put certain words centralized below the previous verse, but I just need to know a lot of HTML to do that... maybe I'll try to edit them later.
Porque a garoa é triste?
É porque parece que a natureza chora?
Branco, nublado, Ausência
– o nada –
Fala o vento soprando frio, melancólico.
cai em silêncio
E este silêncio dá um desespero!!

Prefiro o barulho da chuva.
Ele parece vivo, vibrante, até alegre.
A garoa nem geme. É quieta, sorrateira.
Como aquelas grandes tristezas, melancolias,
que nos enchem o coração de vez em quando...
que vem assim também. Silentes, caladas
(e calam lá no fundo...)

Através da garoa vê-se o mundo embaçado,
miopemente desfocado.

"– Garoa, sai dos meus olhos." - diz o Mário.

Sai dos meus olhos
Sai do meu coração


Porque o teu silêncio me sufoca.

05.11.92 9:30 a.m.
(é ruim mas é algo)
Why is the drizzle sad?
Is it because it seems that nature weeps?
White, cloudiness, Absence
– nothing –
Says the wind blowing cold, melancholic.
falls silently
And this silence brings me such despair!!

I prefer the noise of the rain.
It seems alive, vibrant, even joyful.
The drizzle doen’t even moan. It’s quiet, surreptitious.
Like those feelings of sadness, and melancholy that fill our hearts once in a while…
that also come like that. Silent, peaceful
(and pierce us deeply…)

Through the drizzle one sees the foggy world,
Near-sightedly out of focus.

“Drizzle, get out of my eyes.” – says Mário.

Get out of my eyes
Get out of my heart


Because your silence suffocates me.

May 11, 1992, 9:30 am
(it’s bad but it’s something)

I thought of this poem written almost fifteen years ago now because I think it applies well to the snow that’s falling out there. The word "drizzle" can be easily substituted for "snow," so the poem can also be read as if it were about snow.

Once I wrote in a comment in Jo(e)’s blog that one of the things that bothered me about the snow was the eerie silence that came with it and she liked that idea. She said that maybe that’s one of the things that depressed her so in the month of February. This month is almost over, but I wanted to share this with her (and you).

I also wish I could write haikus like my friend Cloudscome, but they’re so hard to write for someone as prolix as myself. Right now, all I can write is this:

Snow is falling fast
As I type my dissertation
I look out the window from the corner of my eye
Wishing the words could come to me as fast as the snowflakes.
All that comes is some poetry, not academic prose.
It feels good to write again, though
It has been many years since I’ve felt the words
Like snowflakes, light and pure
Falling silently and covering me with a blanket.
Only black, not white.
Black words on white paper
Black words on the blank computer screen.


I think there’s hope for me.
If only I can still write.

Friday, February 23, 2007

(NOT) Getting a Grip and Taking Control

First, there are many other things I'd rather be posting about, as you already know (e.g. I have this post I really want to write linking to some of the favorite recent blog posts I've read and commenting them), but I have to continue writing about the dissertation as I pledged I would do. (and because as you'll see, my idle days are over)

Just for you to have an idea how hard this is, I started this post on January 9th, but only got back to it on 2/7 and I'm finally finishing today. And just because it wouldn't make much sense to post it after today!! So, it's now or never! (I've managed to read blogs and do other stuff since I started working on this hours ago so you see how much I don't want to write about this).
~ ~ ~ ~
I really wanted, for the past several months, to "get a grip" on the dissertation work. To take control of my own life in this respect (and others too). You see, I haven't really been doing too well on that respect. Let me tell you a little more about it. I'll be mostly writing about mothering, but you'll see where I'm trying to get to once I finish, so hang on.

The Five Month "Rule"
While visiting Brazil in 2005, my brother's mother-in-law (who lives only four houses down from my parents' house) asked me, "How do you manage by yourself with two children ?"

You see, in Brazil most everyone from the lower middle class up has domestic help, as I posted here a long time ago (an interesting post, if I may say so myself, about the fact that in Brazil there are no "mommy wars" because of this fact). One of my best girl friends is married to my brother's brother-in-law and has two children the same age as mine.* She has a cleaning/cooking lady (who works every weekday) and a nanny. (My friend does work part time from her mother's home, though, I should make that clear). It's no surprise then that her MIL was asking me how I managed. I answered something about my husband helping (which is actually very relevant, but that's not the topic of this post) or something else I can't remember right now.

When I came back home I came up with a response, though. Well, I do manage fine, but only for five months or so at a time! :) Let me explain. My parents were here (for six months) before and after my youngest son was born in 2004. They went back to Brazil when he was three months old and 5 months later I went with the boys to Brazil , where I spent almost 2 months (I blogged about this a bit in Feb. and March 05). I came back home, and five months later my parents were back. They were here for almost a year (with two months in Brazil during that period, but I was there then too) so I could work on my dissertation. It's been 6 months (5 in January when I started the post) since they left, but they just returned today. So how does this tie in with the post's topic?

(Not) Working on the Dissertation
I want to make it clear that I can't thank my parents enough for what they have done and have been doing for me (and for us, actually) and I will basically "owe" them my Ph.D. when I finish. I have a lingering fear, though, that this wonderful help is making it harder for me to get a grip on my life, doing things by myself, no matter how hard.

OK, first of all, I do realize that it is really hard to work on a dissertation while I care full time for my two young boys with no childcare or pre-school to help. But I know for how much time I have been spending online when I could be working on the dissertation. Again, I know that reading blogs, or writing blog posts doesn't require the concentration that one needs to finish writing chapters of the dissertation, so it's easier to do with children around.

Another thing: when they're here I'm literally forced to work, because they're spending quite a bit of money to be here and they keep asking me how much progress, I'm doing, etc. That gives me the pressure that I need to produce. One of the hardest things about writing a dissertation and finishing a Ph.D. is that we don't have any deadlines and we don't have the pressure to finish at the end of a given semester in the way that coursework does (Sarah just wrote about this last week). I'm the kind of person who needs the pressure of deadlines and my parents' presence here helps with that.

This has actually become a kind of pointless post... When I started it in January, I was trying to berate myself for not working and trying to get motivated to take control of my life. I was never able to do it, though, I just kept going, busy with the children, the house, our daily life, etc... I know I have to finish this, so even though it may seem that I don't have a grip, I kind of do, whatever.

All right, so next, I have the outline of a post in which I list all the things that are problematic for me in the process of finishing the dissertation. It should be interesting to write about those in more detail. I think about these problems (both external and "internal" -- personality wise) all the time, but I guess writing here will help me look for strategies to overcome them. I'll try to squeeze in a fun post or two while I can. As I begin to work in earnest, though I'll try to keep blogging strictly as a reward for working. We'll see how it goes. Please think of me and pray (if you do), I need all the help I can get.

Sorry for the terribly scattered post, I need to publish it now, like this, or else I'll never do it.

*These are the same friends who visited us at the end of January.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Academic Scare

This was not the right day for a sudden high dose of stress, but I guess bad news never comes at convenient times.

The second floor of our house is a complete chaos right now. OK, it's not that bad because I have already put away most books, but it's pretty messy. My parents arrive tomorrow from Brazil and we're moving the boys to the tiny room that used to be our study. However, we decided to paint that little room (a very pale and pretty shade of blue -- I'll post photos later) before moving, so we had to empty it fully. We went to bed at 2 a.m. last night after moving the computer desk and one of the bookshelves to our bedroom and we got up at 7 with the boys and resumed the moving. All the furniture is moved, that is, except for the boy's beds which are piled into our bedroom awaiting the room to be painted.

So... lo and behold, I open the mail and find a letter from the graduate registrar saying that since I'd failed to register for the Spring semester, my status as a student had been TERMINATED!! "What??" I thought, "I registered in December!" Well, at least I thought I did, but most certainly didn't. Termination simply can't happen, both because this is my very last semester and that I need to be registered in order to maintain my visa status.

Well, don't worry... (like I uselessly did). I have already called the chair of my program and he's hand delivering a memo authorizing the graduate school to reinstate me this afternoon. I already called the graduate school and they have my credit card information, which will be used as soon as they get the said memo.

Problem's solved, then. It just cost me a huge dose of adrenaline and 75 dollars more than my "program fee" [continuous enrollment fee] (insert big heaving sigh here)...

Monday, February 19, 2007

A Day Out in D.C.

We had a good day today. It just wasn't perfect because it was President's day and lots of other people (and children) were out and about in Washington D.C. This sounds a bit selfish, I know, but it's one of the few advantages of being a SAHM* -- we get to enjoy museums and parks in their off peak days and hours, but that wasn't the case today.

Oh, yes, in case you're wondering, the wedding last night was nice, in spite of the weather that suddenly dumped an inch or more of snow right on us (I say that becase the snow was worse where the wedding was, here where my BIL lives there was hardly any)... Driving back to BIL's home was a bit stressful, since there were several accidents on the Beltway. But, back to our day. The boys throughly enjoyed our rides in the metro:
We first went to the National Mall and did quick stops at the Natural History museum (beautiful orchids there!) and National Gallery of Art. I was able to quickly see my beloved French Impressionists, that I hadn't seen live in over 8 years. The boys had fun recognizing the four Monet and Renoir prints that we have on our living room walls (I purchased them back in 1993 when I spent two weeks at my uncle's house getting to know D.C. -- that's why I love this city and its museums so much, it was "my first American city").
Then we went to the Air and Space Museum to have lunch (I forgot to mention that we visited the one close to the airport on Saturday after we dropped of my husband at the airport) and we took the metro again to the National Zoo. There we finally got to meet the baby panda:
The boys fell asleep on the way home (5:40 pm), the youngest in the metro, and the oldest in the car. The little one is still sleeping, but the older woke up and asked me to cook him some pasta, which I did, and now he's eating it. We need to go to bed right now, because tomorrow morning, really early, we have to drive to the airport... So I'll talk to you later!

* "Stay at Home Mom" for those not familiar with this pathetic acronym. I don't even know why I use this expression (I don't like it)... but I chose to do so today.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Shopping and Minor Misfortunes

(This was supposed to be last Thursday's post, but I didn't get to write it then. I'll go back to dissertation posts soon enough, but I don't want to get depressed today. I'm in the D.C. area and I'm going to a wedding with the boys this evening -- I'll let you know how it goes [Keiko - Claytinho's wedding]. I'm by myself with the boys in my brother-in-law's house. BIL is in Brazil with his family, as is my husband, who flew last night, and will be back on Tuesday)

My blogging friend Emily has recently found a good way to indulge in some "retail therapy:" No Cash Virtual Shopping. Well, Em, I'm doing the next best thing (or perhaps, an even better way to do it) -- I've been doing real shopping, not for me, though, for my friend in Brazil!!

This friend has two children slightly older than mine, a son (5 months older than Kelvin) and a daughter (8 months older than Linton), and two years ago she asked me to buy some clothes (mostly turtlenecks and sweatpants) for them and this has become a regular practice now, in every season clearance. "American" clothes (not really manufactured here, though, of course) are better and much cheaper than any clothes that she can buy for her children in Brazil, particularly if purchased at end of season clearances. Last Fall I bought a whole "wardrobe" of summer clothes for them, and now I bought lots winter clothes.

I have a lot of fun doing that, except when I have to drag the boys along in my shopping excursions. This year all it took was 4 shopping trips (two to Kohls and two to the "evil store" [WM] that I feel slightly bad for shopping at, in my desire of becoming "crunchier," but it's an evil that I won't be able to avoid until we have a better budget) for me to buy 24 pieces of clothing for the boy and 31 for the girl. How much did I spend? A little over 200 dollars. I did my first trips to each store by myself, but last Thursday I had to get a few more items from my friend's list before my husband traveled this weekend, so I had to take both boys to the store. The trip to WM was easy because they were going to get some Bob the Bui*lder characters (a set like this, with only the three bottom characters) , but we had some trouble in the rest of the afternoon.

We had some "minor misfortunes" then, most of which involved my oldest boy. First, I stopped at Staples because I needed to do some copies. While I copied, the boys played with their new toys. When I was almost done, though, Kelvin hurt his finger in one of those swinging trash disposal doors. It certainly hurt a lot, because he cried like a little baby... the worse part of when children get hurt is that they ask us to stop the pain, to make it go away and we can't do that! I know it's just the beginning of many things that will go wrong for them in the future and that that I won't
be able to fix.

I had to get a present for today's wedding, so we stopped at Target. The boys complied just because they wanted to eat bread sticks, which we did prior to shopping. Then we headed to Kohls and it was there the the worst part of our troubles took place. I was foolish enough to let them take their new toys into the store. I thought they would be entertained, but I overlooked the fact that they might have trouble sharing them.

While I was looking at some clothes, Linton was asking Kelvin for one of the toys, but Kelvin gave him one he didn't want. Lately, when Kelvin doesn't want to share with Linton, he's just been throwing the toy at his brother. So this time, he put the character on the floor for Linton to take, and kept on running around. Of course Linton didn't want that one and ran after his brother. When Kelvin went back to the same spot less than a minute later (all this while, they were really close to me, just 2-3 clothes' racks away), the character was gone! He called me, and we looked for it everywhere (after Kelvin had ran away from me and I grabbed his coat hood, whose zipper promptly gave away).

All the while, there was this elderly Hispanic lady, who was standing with her shopping cart right in front of the place where he had left the toy, looking at us and beholding our despair and frantic search. When we didn't find it, we gave up for a minute or two so we could cool off, and the lady went away with her daughter. I then thought, well, I have to ask that lady if she saw anything (I can't really communicate well in Spanish, even though I generally understand it, like most speakers of Portuguese do -- they don't understand us, though -- so I didn't try to talk to her when I was so frantic), so we walked around the whole store looking for them and caught up with them at the exit. The daughter (who had a bag over her shoulder with Ecuador woven into the strap -- Alice :) translated my question and the lady mumbled something I couldn't understand and which the daughter translated as "it's among the clothes." We went back and looked everywhere and of course couldn't find it. We were very baffled... and the good thing is that the boys were very good after that and I was able to spend a few more minutes shopping.

Then, after paying for our purchases, I tried to fix my son's jacket's hood, before putting the jacket on him. It has one of those hoods that's zippered onto the jacket, and the zipper had "opened up" the wrong way when I'd pulled it when my son was running from me. While I was trying to get it to open, I yanked at it too strongly and the part that keeps it from falling off broke -- it just flew out with the little moving part (I don't know the names of these things)! I was so upset for ruining the jacket that we left right away and I forgot to put the jacket on my poor boy, when it was freezing cold and windy outside!!

Well, Kelvin (and I) learned several lessons that evening: first, he has to be careful with swinging trash doors; then, he must share toys with his brother and give him the toy that he wants in his hand, not toss it on the ground (particularly not in a public place); and finally, he must not run away from me (that, I know, I must enforce in a consistent manner so it does become a lesson).

Phew... we were pretty frazzled and sad about the lost toy and broken hood zipper when we got home. We weren't more devastated because I had just bought the same lost character the night before (not in a set), so the boys still have it, just not the one from the set (it was a Christmas/winter set, and the characters have "snow" painted on them -- I'm going to use them on top of the birthday cake, that way, if it's supposed to look like snow, I don't have to use food coloring on the frosting, good, huh?).

All right, I have to go... we still need to get a pretty bag for the wedding gifts.

Oh, and "Happy Chinese New Year" for you! Now, with my brother in China, I'm more aware of Chinese life and holidays. :)

Friday, February 16, 2007

So Close and Yet So Far Away

In a nutshell, that's how I feel about the dissertation and finishing my Ph.D.

I could write thousands of words on this subject, but I'll be brief, just because I want to finish this post. I still want to get to it into more detail here in the blog (I have drafts of posts already), but I guess it's a good start to think about it this way: how close I am and yet how infinitely far I feel from it.

I have drafts of all chapters and only one (of six) is relatively rough, all the others have over 35 pages or more. I have written hundreds of pages -- I can give you the complete numbers in another post if you're interested. I finished the analysis of the data last July and have dozens of graphs and charts ready. I know what remains to be done and how it can be done, but I just feel paralyzed. There are many many reasons for that, first and foremost, the fact that I care for my two boys full time, but still I know that I could have done something about it but haven't. I have just used my spare time to read blogs and blog. See? That's what I'm doing right now.

Of course blogging has become really important in my life, but maybe it's just too important and not really helpful at this point. And there are many other things. I started a blog post in my mind (I do that all day long, of course) in which I list all the reasons why I haven't been working and categorize them. I will try to do that...

So, here you go, the beginning of the dissertation conversations. I'm just so blocked that I can't even write this word without cringing and feeling an urge to cry. But more on that later.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Snowed/Iced In

I don't know how much I'll be able to write before my sons come to interrupt me, since they're watching a PBS program right now. [This was at 5 p.m. I got to write this and the next two paragraphs and upload three photos, but only got to finish this after the boys had gone to bed with daddy.]

It's been a looong day stuck at home with them. Not that most of my days are very different, it's just that I generally have the option of getting the boys in the car and driving somewhere, but not today. We did have fun, yesterday and today, playing outside, but I didn't finish cleaning my iced car (almost 3 inches of ice and snow on windshield) until a few minutes ago, and then gave up going out because the winds are too strong and my street is still full of snow.

But I wanted to share some photos with you, of course. Ice storms are only really beautiful if the sun comes out and everything becomes a beautiful sparkly [Google's spell check doesn't recognize this word, but I'll keep it :)] "winter wonderland" and it did get sunny today, so I was out frantically taking photos. Unfortunately, most of the trees around our home (we have none on our property) are really tall and those with low branches are across a lawn in my neighbor's property across the street, so I didn't get the close-ups that I wanted, but still, some good shots, I think, thanks to the powerful zoom in my camera.These next two were actually taken with the macro function (and not the zoom), since I was really close to this small tree in front of my neighbor's house.I let our cat (Blues) out, and it was fun to see him walking on the snow/ ice
OK, Lauren, I hear you, so I'm going to start working immediately on a series of angsty dissertation posts, although I'm not looking forward to it :(

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Coming and Going

I was away from the blog in the last few days because last Thursday my husband decided that it would be a good idea to visit his parents this past weekend. So we left for Massachusetts on Saturday afternoon and returned last night at midnight. We love to do impromptu things like that, and, needless to say, we're really used to road trips, so a 5 hour drive is almost "nothing" to us. I don't think we'll be doing that again, but years ago we drove for 14-16 hours three times to go from Massachusetts to Michigan to visit my brother- and sister-in-law, twice on Thanksgiving weekend. Good thing they live in Maryland now!

Anyway... some things that have been happening here lately and that I want to blog about:

- Last Friday, for the first time since we bought our first computer in 1998, we had water spill on the keyboard (my oldest son was playing nearby and had just brought some water to me), and it's not working anymore, so I only have the laptop until we can get a new keyboard. I was very happy that this happened because it's the same keyboard from 1998 -- we never replaced it, even though the CPR and the monitor are gone now (more about the monitor at another post). It still worked OK, but the little "feet" that prop it up would often slip and it would lie flat on the desk, which annoyed me.

- My husband is traveling to Brazil again for two days.

- My parents renewed their U.S. visa yesterday and if their passports get back until Saturday, they're getting here a week from today. They're coming for my "final push" to get the Ph.D. More on that on subsequent posts.

- We've had some new ideas regarding options for my husband's future job and career and we're getting happier with the options that we may have.

- My almost 5 year old son is getting interested in writing, so I want to scan some of his writing for you to see.

Oh, and for those of you who have been concerned with his bad dreams, he's had very good nights lately and this morning he told us that he dreamed for the first time with his latest obsession: Bob the Builder. If it makes him happy -- good thing! I have to remember to tell you later a dream related anecdote about him. Remind me, OK?

- I have to tell you more about our visit to some of our "old haunts" in Massachusetts yesterday.

I guess that's it... I have to cook something for dinner, so I have to go.

Oh, yes, it's finally snowing and it's so pretty out there. The boys played outside in the snow for a while this afternoon. Too bad it's going to turn into freezing rain...

Thursday, February 08, 2007

(Sad) Things They Say

All right, I haven't yet mustered the courage to write about the dissertation today, so I offer something that I have been meaning to do for the longest time, some things my sons have been saying. The reason why I haven't really posted these more often is that they have to be translated from Portuguese into English which consequently causes some losses of meaning and humor. The few (so far five) times I posted these can be found under the label "Kids Say the Darndest Things (in Translation)" in my sidebar.

Expressing Feelings
My youngest, who is 2 years and 8 months old, has recently started to express his negative feelings in a very open manner. One of the words he's been using most often in his vocabulary lately is triste (sad). He wants all of us to know that he is sad that something happened. Even more often, he announces to all of us that he'll be really sad if something is done in a particular way. He also looks at what just happened and realizes the effect his "sadness" has on us.

Some example from the last few days:
"If daddy leaves I'm going to be really really sad!"
"I don't like when Kelvin doesn't share with me. I was very very very sad. And he gave that toy to me." (this had happened an hour earlier and he was reflecting on what had taken place)

Fears and Nightmares
My oldest son (who is going to be 5 in March) has started wake up at night very afraid. He says he has nightmares and worries about wolves and forests. It's been very tough on my husband, who is generally the one who gets up to sleep with him in the futon in the boy's bedroom. Tonight I was talking to him before he went to sleep and he said:
"Do you know what? I wish that the night was less long, I wish it was shorter."
"Why?" I asked.
"Because I'm tired of having bad dreams."
"And what do you do when you have them?"
"I wake up with a sad face."
"And what do you do?"
"Should I pray? I don't pray."
"Well, maybe you should, so you wouldn't be afraid."
"But it's not God who brings these dreams, it's my head."
I didn't know what to say, he was perfectly right, so I just said:
"It's not easy to be a person, isn't it?"
He was quiet for a bit and then replied:
"You know what? I didn't want to be a person."
"What would you want to be, then? An animal? What? What do you mean?"
"I wanted not to exist."

Wow... isn't it a bit early to express such feelings? Or is he just so afraid of his nightmares that he just doesn't want to have to live through them. I wish we could do something to help, but I guess all we can do is talk to him about it and continue letting him sleep with us as needed.

I told him I'd be right back and came to the computer to type up this conversation. He came after me and we talked some more about this. I know that these "profound" things they say may not mean the same to them that they mean to us, but still, I'm surprised at how philosophical some of our conversations get. And this has been happening since he was three years old. He asks such inquisitive questions! I just wish I wrote down more of our exchanges.

Nostalgic for Irreplaceable Chocolate

Since I wrote a more serious post earlier "today" I decided to write a lighter one before talking about other serious things, like the dissertation, which I want to finally "tackle" in my next post.

Some weeks ago I ate the last of the delicious Ghirardelli chocolate squares that my brother - and sister-in-law gave us in our stockings for Christmas (thanks, sis', I loved them!). The taste of this particular one brought a flood of memories to me since it reminded of my favorite chocolate ever. So here it is, finally, the "Lindt chocolate" post I alluded to a while ago at the end of this post. Enjoy!
~~ ~~

There are some "rare" pleasures in life and one of them is finding just the "perfect" chocolate. The one that becomes your absolute favorite, a treat that is the best possible sweet reward at certain challenging moments or stressful times. I'm hard to please and I don't eat chocolate or candy that often, so it took me a while to find mine.

I found it though, years ago (in 1998?) , in one of the most improbable places, the little candy/chips/soda store at the Student Union building's main floor, near the entrance, in my graduate institution.

The moment I tasted the Lindt chocolate bar with liquid strawberry filling, I knew I had found the most delicious chocolate ever. I bought it once in a while, trying not to indulge too often, lest I spoil the pleasure of a "rare" treat. You see, strawberries are my favorite fruit, and this liquid, clear filling, had the most perfect strawberry taste, sweet, and yet tangy, a bit sour. Just delicious.

I guess I bought four or five bars before this particular chocolate simply vanished. In the summer of 1999 I spent a month and a half studying French in a school in France, near the border with Switzerland (Geneva) [I was actually born in this particular place -- more here items 2-10] and I went to Genève nearly everyday and looked for this chocolate bar everywhere and had no luck whatsoever finding it. On my birthday my roommate gave me this as a present:[Odd Curiosity/ Coincidence: Of the 22 results in the "Lindt strawberry chocolate" Google Images search that I did to find this image 7 results were Brazilian sites selling Lindt chocolate!]

This bar, with a creamy strawberry filling was pretty good, but not the same, not even close to the "liquid filling" one. My dear friends in Brazil (the same who visited two weeks ago) were also thrilled to have found "my favorite chocolate" when they gave me this same bar as a present in 2004 or 2005. Of course I didn't say it wasn't "the one" because I didn't want to disappoint them.

When I came back to Massachusetts from France, I found my favorite chocolate once more at a chocolate store at the center of the town where my sons were born (hint: same town where Sylvia Plath went to college), but since I didn't go there very often, I think that must have been the last time I tasted it, late in 1999.

After that, I lost all interest in Lindt chocolates. There was a time back in 1999-2000 when my husband and I became quite addicted to Swiss chocolate, particulary Lindt, eating the little classic chocolate bars everyday after lunch or dinner. However, I stopped buying them after that, and never tried to look for my favorite chocolate again because I knew I wouldn't find it. Lindt still does have a raspberry liquid filling chocolate bar (like the Ghirardelli one), but even though raspberries are delicious, they are not my favorite fruit! Once in a while we buy the Lindt truffles, but I don't really care for them that much (I prefer Ferrero Rocher, for example).

Isn't it sad to know that I will probably never taste my favorite chocolate bar ever again? The funny thing is that its very absence makes it even more "legendary" and delicious because of the longing that I now have for it and the way I can only remember what it tasted like. I really wish I could have one as a reward after my dissertation defense though -- wouldn't that be great?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


*Edited to Add: this finally is the 300th post since that one wasn't :)

We were up talking until late last night, my husband and I. As you know, he sent out over 30 applications, got one phone and then campus interview and that's it so far. A handful of schools have sent their rejection letters, but most haven't said a word. It would be easier to know that doors are closed instead of suspecting but having no way to know for sure. It's been a month since the last deadline for sending applications so it's a very uneasy time for him. I'm glad my very brief search is over for good, but it would be good to know what we're doing, where we're going. Once that's settled, I have to send letters and CVs out and seek an adjunct job, anything.

One of the biggest reasons for his/our disappointment in his job search is the success of his lab mate. Coincidentally, he's another Brazilian guy like my husband. He has a total of six job interviews. All of them at R1 universities (large universities with graduate programs whose main focus is research, not teaching, like in the smaller undergraduate-only liberal arts colleges). There are a few differences in his situation, though. First, this friend is not in the same area as my husband's. He's in the applied sciences rather than in "pure sciences," even though he's been doing a postdoc in the second. So maybe things are slightly different in those departments. Second, and most importantly, our friend is in his SECOND postdoc, this time in a "buzz area" and with a well known, established scientist at an Ivy League school. Sure, my husband is working for the same scientist at the same school, but because of the circumstances, he didn't get to work on the area he wanted to and is working in a more obscure subject. This is his first postdoc and has lasted three years.

Besides having been a postdoc for four years, our friend experienced bitter disappointment in his first two job searches. The first yielded two interviews, the second, none. But now he's reaping the benefits of his second postdoc at big shot school. So, he's been telling my husband he should go for a second postdoc to maximize his chances to get an R1 university job. That would mean two more years in "limbo" for our family, but might yield a "better" job for my husband.

What if there's an offer from the "Smallish Undergraduate State University" with strong research emphasis where he interviewed? What about the possibility of the "Small Religious Private University" with little opportunity for research in the West Coast? (I mentioned this second possibility here, I guess some of you may have missed it). Should he still forgo these offers for "real jobs" (although not the desired research focused jobs) in order to try going for another postdoc and pursuing the elusive dream of an R1 position?

We were just reflecting last night that all these discussions may end up being pointless because there could potentially be more interviews in the coming weeks, but we kind of doubt that. I mean, it's getting late in the game, isn't it?

And the bottom line is... We started looking back at our "plans" and realized that one of our problems may have been not having a clear goal to begin with. We were, like we say in Portuguese "shooting in every direction" (atirando pra todo lado) hoping to "catch" something (we have another saying for that, "o que cair na rede é peixe" -- whatever falls/is caught on the net is a fish) and now we're not sure we would want any kind of "fish."

The sad thing is -- isn't it a bit too late to be reaching this conclusion? Shouldn't we have thought of that years ago? Shouldn't we have planned something like -- "What we want is to look for R1 jobs for both of us, and if that fails, we can lower our expectations, we can set a different goal." Would it be wise to start setting such goals NOW? Waiting two more years for something that's far from certain? I am at a point (and have been for a long time) where I don't really care too much about what I end up doing. I feel like I want my husband to have a job he loves and then I'll find something for me there. Anyway, it's very unsettling to look back and feel like maybe we should have done things differently.

Of course there's a long history behind our academic lives that you don't know of. We were supposed to go back to Brazil to teach there, so we never aimed too high. There was no point in being ambitious because we had no choice. Then, we started enjoying been true scholars/ scientists and we even considered not going back on our own. It was then that they decided to stop the sponsorship and "release" us from our obligation to go back. That was around the time my husband had already decided to go for the postdoc, etc. Then, there's the fact that his "boss" got him to work on something he didn't really want to work on, an obscure area which is a hindrance, in spite of the name of the school and of the "boss." One of my problems, which I hope will end up being an advantage one day, is that I'm interested in way too many areas (within literature), so I don't fit in well anywhere. My dissertation work is interdisciplinary and I don't even want to work in one of the main areas my dissertation focuses in.

All right, you must be bored with all this discussion. Thing is, we're at a crossroads right now and we'll have to decide what to do within the next two months. We also worry about our family, about the boys. Where would we like them to grow up? Where would be the optimal place for our family to live? Is there such a place or should we just have a "bloom where we're planted" mindset?

P.S. My husband loves your comments here, Articulate Dad (he says that they're always so pertinent, so thoughtful), therefore I've been telling him that he should go read certain posts in your blog, which may help him, or at least have him feel that he's not alone in this struggle. I kept talking about you in our conversation yesterday.

Monday, February 05, 2007

What's (Not) Going On

I guess it's a mix of the "black hole" that is the dissertation and my avoidance of or inability to work with it and the winter woes.

Both Kateri and Left Handed Trees recently wrote about the "certain slant of light" effect of winter afternoons. Of course I was vaguely familiar with Emily Dickinson's poem, but in these eleven winters I have spent here, I hadn't really read it and thought about what these long winters do to us...

And now I read the poem and feel like weeping.
There's a certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.

Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings are.

None may teach it anything,
'Tis the seal, despair,-
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the air.

When it comes, the landscape listens,
Shadows hold their breath;
When it goes, 't is like the distance
On the look of death.
Emily Dickinson
It's so cold that I've been avoiding going out. I know I should, 'cause it would do me and the boys good. So tomorrow we will.

Some loose ends from the comment section...

Dear friends Articulate Dad and Alice commented some things I want to respond to.

Alice remarked that it looked like I'd lost weight in one (or more) of the photos in my celebrity look alike post (photos are now gone -- glitchy beta site problems, I suspect, but I'll replace them soon, you may be sure of that!). The thing is, when I was sick last year from May to July I did loose some weight, but all those photos were taken before then, so it's probably the angle. I am yet to discuss weight here, but let me just say that I've always been skinny, so there are positions in which I seem even thinner. (Edited to add: oh, but in one of the photos, the last one, I probably hadn't lost all the weight I'd gained in my second pregnancy -- some 38 pounds, 17 kg. so my face probably does look "fuller." I'll talk more about this topic in the future, OK? I've actually been meaning to.)

Articulate Dad said here that I shouldn't sigh too much because "It unbecomes [my] lovely disposition." Oh my friend... my disposition may seem to be really happy here in this blog, given your kind words and Aliki's nomination of this blog as happiest blog for a blog award. I am, indeed, a happy, positive person in general, but I'm always sighing. Sometimes there's no reason at all, but I do it... I sound like an old woman to those around me, I guess. I'm also quite a whiner, but I've been getting better, I just have some weaker moments of intense whining and complaining once in a while. (which my poor husband hates, BTW, so I generally soon stop).

So, here you go... some random thoughts about what's going on around here, or not going on, since there's not too much. OK, I won't sigh, I wont! Now you've made me self conscious. ;)

I'm a Neat Freak?

I've seen this quiz a lot lately, and thought I'd give it a try. Good thing I'm just one step further from "well-adjusted" (see other categories below). I think the description kind of fits me too, it just makes me laugh because unfortunately I'm not really a neat-freak and I wish I were. Of course I'm a perfectionist, and I do enjoy cleaning after a party and helping out... so some characteristics do fit me. (Oh, and I did it last week on 1/31, but only got to post it today, just so I get to post something, you know...).

Well, so here's the result. I didn't have the time to edit it (I would have had to deal with the html) so it has a lot of spaces, particularly at the end. I did get to move the picture up, but couldn't bring the parts close together. One thing I did manage to do, make the text boxes narrower so the text fit and could at least be read. Phew!

The Neat Freak

You scored 45 anxiety, 37 awkwardness, and 64 neuroticism!
You exhibit neurotic behaviors without the underlying anxieties, and you manage fine socially while balancing compulsive you must be The Neat Freak! You are happy, well-adjusted, and...organize obsessively. Your friends call you OCD, but you're not: you just love to tidy and categorize!

Your low anxiety score implies that you are able to relax, can enjoy the here and now, and have a healthy amount of self-confidence.

Your low awkwardness score implies that you are socially capable, are personable and charming, and probably go to parties and have fun (especially cleaning up afterwards!).

Your high neuroticism score implies that you exhibit neurotic behaviors--probably cleaning, organization, perfectionism, and other orderly compulsions.

See the other results!


The Neat Freak

The Dork

The Geek



The Subtle Neurotic

The True Neurotic
My test tracked 3 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 99% on anxiety
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 99% on awkwardness
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 99% on neuroticism
Link: The Neurotic Test written by littlelostsnail on OkCupid, home of the The Dating Persona Test

Thursday, February 01, 2007


I just found out from a phone call from my husband that I spent part of the day under the delusion that it was Wednesday and not Thursday.

I know it doesn't really matter much (unless one misses appointments and such), but still, I hate the feeling of having been "living" in the wrong day in my mind.

During vacations, when I'm at the beach, or traveling abroad for days or weeks, I easily loose track of time and sometimes I don't know what day of the week and of the month it is. This doesn't bother me at all. On a "regular" week it does, though.

There's often an easy explanation and in my case it has to do with the fact that our friends left on Monday afternoon. On Monday morning I took them to Center City to see the Liberty Bell, so it felt like a Sunday because of the sightseeing. I did know, in the back of my mind, that my friends were flying back to Brazil today, a Thursday, but I still got confused.

It's no big deal. I did the laundry, thinking all the time, "Oh, I'm doing the laundry earlier this week" -- ha ha, no such luck! I know I should be happy, the weekend is just around the corner, but it's just strange to feel confused. It's the vulnerability and frailty of the human mind that comes to the surface when something like that happens, and it bothers me.