Monday, April 30, 2007

Update on Housing Hunt

I'm planning to write more about this soon already wrote it all in this post in the end, but I'll be back after we get to see even more houses tomorrow. I wanted to let you know that you were right, that yes, indeed, we have seen better townhomes than the one we "lost." There's just one catch -- these cost 30K more... than that one and the same price as the only single family home with a large yard in a corner lot that we're still interested in. It's going to be a very tough decision, I tell you.

Like my first post about this subject, aptly titled Finding the One, last week I was telling my mom that house hunting has a lot to do with falling in love and meeting prospective love interests. We just think about these houses all the time, it's almost unnerving. I got breaks from thinking about them for a few hours at a time, since I was concentrating really hard on finishing some dissertation chapters, but I spent the first part of the weekend quite anxious, thinking that we'd have to make a decision and make an offer to that townhome. These decisions are quite scary since they involve a large sum of money and the comfort and well being of the whole family!! That's why after feeling some anger and frustration at loosing that home I felt relieved. But my relieve didn't last long.

As this soccer metaphor we use in Brazil conveys so well, what we saw yesterday "embolou o meio de campo" (something like the players are all stuck in midfield and the game can't progress).

Yesterday, I fell in love with this beautiful, basically perfect townhome. This was after (1) viewing this other spacious townhome with four levels of living and a perfect floor plan on the first floor (an enclosed formal dining area and kitchen in the back, not connected to the rest of the house), (2) revisiting the perfectly finished single family home on 1 acre of land and finally deciding that it is gorgeous indeed, but not what we want (the pack of information they had to prospective buyers had a sheet itemizing the improvements that were made -- they spent 102 thousand dollars on that home, we're so sorry for them, since they've just lowered the price a second time), and (3) revisiting the one single family home we're still interested in -- a home in a cookie cutter neighborhood with the huge corner lot (which, by the way, slopes down and was really really wet and swampy yesterday -- NOT a plus!).

Then we set out on our own to see this one on our list that had an open house (our agent had an open house herself and had to go).This perfectly located home (very close to K's new work and with easy access to the nearest highway) is full of light, airy and incredibly spacious. The rooms are huge, there's a walk in closet in the master bedroom that's the size of a small bedroom, the laundry on the second floor is in an actual room that you can walk into and close the door, not like those laundries that are just behind a set of folding doors, and there's a huge finished loft in the fourth floor... it's just enormous. And besides, it was painted in pastel colors, which I adore (light green and blue, and the same peach color of our own living room in the loft). It has a garage, a lovely corner whirlpool under the master bathroom's window, and the view is also beautiful (even though there's a highway far in the back and we can hear the cars passing by).

However, there was another open house in the same complex and then it was my husband's turn falling in love with a different home, one I didn't like quite as much! He hated the floor plan of the 1st floor of the house I loved and in this second one he thought it was perfect (he's all about the floor plans, I've already told you that, right?). Besides, whereas the basement in the previous one had no egress (exit) and had been sloppily half finished (this, I own, is the only small defect of that home), this home's has a small a walk out basement with two windows and sliding doors -- unfinished, perfect for just going ahead and easily finishing. Because of this glaring disagreement (the first one so far in this venture), I spent the drive home frowning and pouting and thinking that I liked the first home better while K would just look at me and smile or laugh, which was a bit annoying ;).

So, that's where we're at right now. I concede that I didn't like the second one partly because it was mostly painted in very dark colors that I didn't like, but it's not really bad. The large kitchen/ dining are (could also be a sun room) have nice hardwood floors, and the garage is larger than the previous home. Besides it's a few (5) thousand dollars cheaper than the other one (not cheaper enough in my point of view, but it's a plus, particularly because they lowered the price). Oh, and it didn't help that the first one had the sun shining through all the windows and its back was to a beautiful open grassy area with a lovely view of hills (the highway is not very visible because there are small trees and bushes) while the second had no sunshine and backed to the backyards of some cookie cutter single homes (some with playsets), making it even more evident that we didn't have a yard and they did. (and the second one had neither a loft nor a whirlpool tub :)

Oh I'm sorry, but I don't have any more photos of the new homes for you because these were open houses and I felt I shouldn't be taking photos. And now I'm annoyed because I can't "revisit" these last two houses, only in my mind and from my recollections. We're going back there tomorrow, though, and then I'll take them.

Tomorrow, the next chapter... and I'll try to do the Thinking Blogger Award Meme posts later today (if, and only if, I get to finish one more dissertation chapter).

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Back to the Drawing Board

The house we had a strong inclination for and had almost decided to make an offer on received "a very good offer" yesterday. And we didn't find out about it until this evening (when my husband finally found time to check messages on his phone)... So, it's probably going under contract pretty soon and now we're back to square one.

Again, I'm not extremely upset, just a little bit. It is a townhome (one we had seen on the first day and thought expensive and to which we'd returned last Thursday), so it has no yard whatsoever. And it isn't much bigger than our current twin home. The kitchen is tiny and right in the middle of the living/dining/family room area, thanks to its open floor plan.* It does have a garage (we don't have one), tons of closet space (two walk in closets, one in the master bedroom and another in the second bdr), laundry on the second floor, and this awesome, breathtaking bathroom with a large whirlpool under a window and a skylight. Tiled, nonetheless, similarly to the way that ALL bathrooms are tiled in Brazil (I have to write about bathrooms sometime, I've been putting it off for quite some time now). And the price!! It had been just reduced for the second time. This was one of the major attractions for us since unfortunately we do have to worry about prices and the other homes we liked so far are just too high up in our price range.

Well. I guess I'm OK with it, it just seems like this house hunting process will never end. We were all excited that tomorrow we were going to show this townhome plus two other houses to my parents and my mother-in-law who's here, but now this one is out of the game, and in is the 1 acre of land/ tiny but perfect house one of you inquired about (this one also underwent a second price reduction -- I guess we might have to act quickly). Anyway, we're still going tomorrow. I'll try to write about this issue again soon. Oh, yes, and we're going again (hubby and I) on Monday. Then, if we need to go again, we'll have to take the boys, since my parents are flying to China on Wednesday night... Oh well, o que será será.**

* Open floorplans are nice and all, but I sometimes think that average Americans just don't cook, period, or else kitchens wouldn't be open like that to the rest of the house. We Brazilians cook from scratch a lot and I really don't like to have the whole house smelling like food. That's basically unavoidable in any apartment or home in this country. In Brazil kitchens have doors sometimes.

** I've been inspired by Mami Hen, who blogs at the greatly named blog Bilingual in the Boonies to start throwing in more Portuguese words and expressions in my posts, what about that?

Friday, April 27, 2007

Watch Out NBA! :-)

I thought you'd enjoy some "action shots" I took last Saturday night as the boys played with balls in Virginia. We have tons of balls at home, including a basketball, two soccer balls and several others, but the boys hardly ever play with them. I guess balls are much more interesting in their "native" environments. I guess we need to take them to a gym (is that how you call that place) or ball court more often! They were glued to these balls and ran around non stop for 40 minutes or more. Linton by himself just holding, throwing, and running after the basketball, that's why it was easier to photograph him, while Kelvin played with other kids .

Fearless Friday

I'm taking a short break from dissertation writing to take part of Fearless Friday, the very first Mother Talk "Blog Bonanza"! This virtual event is motivated by the publication of Arianna Huffington's book On Becoming Fearless: Love, Work, and Life and the accompanying blog book tour that took place this week.

I haven't read the book yet, but the Blog Bonanza is not about the book, it's an event in which we are urged to write about fears that we have overcome or are working on overcoming. Here's my contribution.
~ ~ ~ ~
I wasn't a fearful girl growing up. Unlike my brother, who was afraid of the dark, for example I was quite fearless and one night went outside our house to bring him a tree branch and show that there was nothing to be afraid out there. I was also a tomboy who climbed tall trees and played high up in buildings under construction (I grew up in Brazil where that was not much of a problem).

Once I got older, I became a bit more fearful and one of the things I didn't really like to do was driving. It took me a long time to learn how to drive and to get my driver's license since I didn't have a car to begin with. Only three months after I got my license in Brazil, my husband and I came to the U.S. and we bought our first car. I was 24 then and it was quite a thrill not only to be living in another country, but also to be able to drive around on my own -- both things for the first time in my life. It was very scary to drive when it was snowing (we went to live in Massachusetts), but generally it was OK to drive around.

I became a good driver, but I always felt quite inexperienced and fearful. I don't have many recurring nightmares, but some of the few I have are related to driving. In these dreams I'm either trying to drive but the car is getting out of control, or the car is moving and I'm supposed to be in the driver's seat, but I'm elsewhere in the car, trying to go to my seat and grab the wheel. Scary. On long trips, my husband always drives and I sometimes get behind the wheel for two or three hours and then hand the car back to him.

Last year, however, I had to spend many many weekends on my own as my husband had to travel to Brazil several times. During that time, I not only had to be the sole caregiver for my two boys, but I had to drive a lot. I've never driven so much in my life as I did in 2006! I not only drove from Philadelphia to New York to pick up my parents from the airport in February (on the same day my husband had surgery in his arm), but I also drove to Washington D.C. and New York to take and pick up my husband. I did the most driving in October when I went to Massachusetts and back on my own.

All that driving, coupled with caring for the boys on my own, made me feel much more confident in myself, almost "powerful" in a sense because I knew that I could do all that on my own and more. I still have nightmares about driving once in a while, but less often than I used to have and now I'm not afraid of driving anywhere, quite the contrary, I have to be careful not to be too confident in my driving and end up speeding :)

I want to close this post with a reference to a post I wrote in January 2006 titled "Happy New Fear." In that post I wrote about how I feared the new year because I had to finish and defend my Ph.D. dissertation. I was also afraid of what the future might bring and wondered whether my husband would get a job in Brazil and we would have to go back or what would happen.

And here I am. My husband has a new job that we're all very excited about and we know where we will live for the next few (or many) years. The dissertation is well on its way for being completely finished and defended!

Fear can be helpful, but only if it moves us to action. If I were fearful of driving and had decided to stay home last year and not go anywhere, I wouldn't have acquired all this confidence in myself and my ability to take care of my sons and take us whenever we need to go. If I were fearful of not finishing the dissertation and simply cowered, giving up because of the problems I have faced (regarding feedback and other things), I would not be finishing now. Becoming fearless has been very important in my development as a mother, a person, and a scholar. I still don't know where this Ph.D. will take me, but I'm not afraid to look into the future and find out the results!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


As you may imagine, I'm busy working on the dissertation since this is the last week my parents are here before their trip to China.

It didn't help that we traveled to Richmond, VA over the weekend, but it was fun to spend time with "old friends" from Brazil and meet new people. I also saw a good friend from graduate school and met her "baby," who is over 2 years old, for the first time. My friend is from Argentina and coincidentally her boy was dressed in Argentina's soccer jersey (made of cotton, of course) while my boys were wearing yellow T-shirts with the Brazilian flag (Brazil's soccer jerseys are yellow too) -- that was a fun coincidence and we took several photos.

There was even a quick blogger meet up involved this weekend, as I got to see Libby (Midlife Mama) again (we had already met in our "pre-blog" lives at a conference back in 2001) -- it was great to see you, Libby!

On our way back we stopped at my brother-in-law's house and I was pleasantly surprised that my oldest nephew, who's four months younger than Linton, is already potty trained. I hope we can do that too here! I also got to see the tulips that I gave them and helped plant last year. Several of them had "baby tulips" (one had two) which were the cutest thing! The photos below are not very good, but at least they give you an idea of the cuteness of the "mommy and baby" tulips as my nephew has been calling them. (the one on the left is a close up of the baby tulip on the right).

I'm also delighted with the arrival of warm weather. Over the weekend it was even better since the sky was perfectly blue, but I have to go back to work before I can start enjoying it... :-(

In the house hunting front, we haven't made a decision yet, but we're leaning towards one of the cookie-cutter houses (in a corner with a huge fenced yard, an unfinished basement and a kitchen which could be updated - we want a home with things we can work on). We're going to see more houses tomorrow and then on Sunday. I'll keep you posted. Oh, and the price for that gorgeous (and smallish) home with the 1 acre of land dropped for the second time! Tempting... but not overly so (I can talk more about it later).

And now... back to work!

P.S. I'll post some photos of the boys later, OK?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Another Dissertation Distraction

(and another blog post named after someone else's blog -- this was the previous one. I don't read these two blogs, I should add ;-)

So, as if I didn't have enough dissertation distractions in my boys, reading blogs, checking books for upcoming book reviews (watch this space!), now there's the house hunting...

Two days, 18 houses seen, and tons of questions floating around our minds. I think it's going to be extremely hard to make a decision since the houses we're seeing are just so different from one another! My friend Tracy asked for photos... I'm taking tons (295 today, and I didn't even take photos of all houses), but I don't think it's very nice to share lots of them here, so I'll just put up a few. If anyone else is curious, I may post photos online somewhere and I can give you the URL via email.

This is the house we liked on Sunday and which is already under contract. We're absolutely OK with that since even though it was pretty nice inside, there were lots of things to do, like removing a bright green carpet and the carpet in the kitchen, replacing a wood paneled wall, without mentioning the basement that needed to be fully redone. It was a home full of possibilities, but we really couldn't afford to do all the necessary renovations.

Now, some highlights of today's real estate adventures!

Would you buy a 100 year old farm house? It has an old barn in the back and even an ancient outhouse!! I had to open the door and peek inside. It brought reminiscences from a long time ago when I was about 4 or 5 years old and visiting my paternal grandparents. They had no running water in the old house (photo of my grandparents and children in front of their general store here), my grandma cooked on two wood stoves, there was a nice and cool well room and two outhouses in their beautiful lush gardens and orchard. I was impressed at how clean and spotless my grandmother kept the outhouses. She waxed the wooden surface until it shined. They also used old newspapers, but I remember toilet paper when I was there.

Now, modern bathrooms are pretty interesting. Particularly the colors that people paint them nowadays. What's up with all these bright red (or burgundy) half baths? (there were more, but I wasn't taking pictures on Sunday).

Let's see what else is ethical to share here...

Hmmm, what about a full acre of land, with a superbly refinished and decorated (albeit fairly small) house -- professionally landscaped grounds, granite countertops, beautiful cabinets, hardwood and tiled floors, you name it (and with nothing really left to do)?(I had forgotten the next two houses and had to come back to share them with you)

Would you buy a (row)home with this "great" view from the back?
Not just power lines, but a drainage ditch:
Nice, huh?

Oh, and what about an older home (on 0.5 acre) with three sheds? (we can't imagine why so many sheds... two must be just not usable).I'm only including a photo of this shed because I don't know how to make a photo collage yet half the house happens to be this nice shade of blue. Would you buy a house this color? The blue house is actually across the street from the farm house with the barn and outhouse. We thought about buying it just because there were some great plants inside (of an otherwise empty house), particularly six or seven bonsai trees (hubby loves bonsai), but I think the plants are not included, so we changed out minds. :)

And... what about cookie-cutter "McHouses" from the early 1990s? We saw four for sale, basically neighbors, side by side. These cookie-cutter neighborhoods make me gag, but I may as well end up in one since they're comfortable and have lots of closet space (a MUST for our messy family, or, should I say with this family with a messy mama?), are full of light and the floor plans please my extremely picky husband (he should have been an architect, I tell ya!). Or in a town/row home -- we saw several of those too...

As you can see there are many options, most of which are basically at the very end of our price range (yikes!). It's going to be tough and... I'm so curious to find out which one is going to be "the one"!

Still Searching

So many things to blog about, so little time... but hopefully I'll get to it .

As for now, I'd just like to say that in spite of our previous excitement about the little old house with many trees and lots of land, we decided not to go ahead and try to make an offer. We're going to look at more houses... and we're thinking that maybe it'll be best if we buy a newer and more comfortable home, one that requires only cosmetic work, not anything really comprehensive and which we won't be able to afford anytime soon (this is how it was in that house).

The only problem is that I'm really afraid now of finding a house that I like only to "lose" it days later. I'm not sad about the other house, though. Maybe someday I'll have some beautiful pine trees...

We're going tomorrow morning again, so I have to get some sleep... Talk to you later.

Oh, and thank you so much for all your supportive comments to the previous post!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

(No More) Blogging Blues

(written last week on Friday, April 13 and amended today)

Every once in a while I write a post like this. I think it's an inevitable part of blogging, unfortunately. I actually wanted to check all my " meta-blogging" posts (translation: blog posts about blogging) to find out how often I've done it, but I decided not to, even because last time I felt like writing a post like this one, I didn't do it, I only added a paragraph to a "regular" post.

The main causes of the current blues:

1) Readership never improves, on the contrary, it seems to decline over time, as some former commenters just don't manifest themselves anymore. My stats have always been dismal... that's why I waited for them to go over 10 thousand to display them as a number (and that took a long time, since I get only 30 hits a day -- including the search engines ones).

Don't get me wrong, I'm very thankful for the readers and commenters that I do have, but sad with my inability to get noticed in blogosphere... I know I probably should be reading more blogs, finding new people, but I just can't do this right now -- I already read too many blogs, which takes a lot of time from other more serious pursuits such as dissertation writing.

2) Sometimes I get tired of reading so many blogs that don't read mine, but that's part of blogging too... I just enjoy reading some people and learn so much from others.

3) I'm frustrated with my own writing and instead of having the blog as an outlet to share my thoughts in an informal way, I feel pressured (by my own perfectionism, I should add) to post only things that are fairly good and polished. So there's a huge backlog of posts that I really want or wanted to post, but haven't yet, or never will because it takes a lot of time and energy to get them written down and "published" in the first place and it doesn't seem to be worth the effort since I just don't have that many readers... See, it's a vicious cycle!

4) It's very sad when I see one of my blogging friends quit blogging and kind of unsettling when they take a break. It's also a normal part of life in the blogosphere, but it makes me feel lonely when I learn that someone I met through blogging and consider a true friend will no longer be blogging. I feel sad even when blogs whose writers don't know me quit blogging too (like Sekie did last year, for example, she who wrote scholarly posts on home-birthing, breastfeeding, etc.)...

5) ....


Now I don't even remember what 5 was! I was almost done writing this post but then I couldn't finish it and I didn't post it. Then, on Saturday night I found out that my friend Corey Heller, who blogs at An American Between Worlds and is the founder of the great site Bilingual/Bicultural Family Network and the online magazine Multilingual Living (I'm honored to have been invited to write columns for both the site and the magazine, more on that some other time), chose to name my blog for the "Thinking Blogger Award" and I this made me so happy that I felt glad I hadn't posted this.

And today I found out that another graduate student mama blogger, Working Writing Wailing Mama also chose me for this meme! Wow! I was just blown away and felt incredibly encouraged by her words about my blog.

I'll do the memes in two separate posts later (I really have to go to bed now, tomorrow's going to be a loooong day! - oh, in case you're wondering, we're planning to make an offer, I'll keep you posted), but I just wanted to come here and post my previous qualms with blogging together with the statement that with all this encouragement, I feel no more blogging blues right now. Talk about good timing!!


We just found out this afternoon that the house we saw on Sunday, the one with the lovely pine trees, is going to get an offer put in tomorrow. I hate being in situation like this!

We aren't fully ready to present an offer just yet because of one small reason: even though we really liked the house, we only viewed a total of seven and we wanted to look at least at six or seven more. We had just scheduled to do this on Thursday morning.

Now we have to scramble and try to see the other houses tomorrow as well as to go back to the one we liked and then make an offer. This is all so nerve racking that it makes me feel like giving up on the house! I can't stand defeat without even trying, though, so I want us to give it a try. If they reject the offer then we'll know it wasn't meant to be.

Wish us luck and I'll keep you posted.

I really wanted to post about some other things -- most importantly about the Blogger Blitz to bring Baby Evelyn, Stephanie Bennett's daughter, home. Here's a good roundup of some of the Blog Blitz posts (my friend Kateri also wrote about it here). Baby Evelyn's was born exactly one year ago today, April 17 when her mother Stephanie was only 17 years old! Maybe I'll be back later to talk about that, but I can't promise it.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Finding The One

Luckily I've already found the one person with whom I want to spend the rest of my life with :), but life has other needs that need to be filled, like food and shelter. The shelter part gets to be a little tricky whenever one needs to relocate.

Today we braved the intense rain and got to be appalled by the sight of lots of flooding in the Schuylkill river in order to look at some houses for the first time. We only visited seven, but we may have found "the one." I have no idea whether it will work out, but there is a possibility that I may have trees and lots of room for gardening after all (insert hopeful sigh of almost relief here). The house is tiny, old, but sound, and the basement can be redone to almost double the living space. The kitchen immediately made me think of Dawn*, since it's carpeted. It's a corner lot, so there's a lot of land, including nice trees, particularly a lovely trio of tall pine trees (the blue spruce squished in the middle just melts my heart since it's my favorite pine tree) -- and there's actually a fourth one to the left, and a fifth by the garage. Lots of evergreens to help with the winter blues ;) (what a silly statement!).

Anyway, I hesitate to get my hopes too high, but deep down, I'm excited. I'll keep you posted!

And since the lovely Delia liked the closing statement of a previous post (which is one I really enjoyed writing and I don't know if all of you read -- sorry for the self promotion, but I had such high hopes for this one post, but many people didn't comment), I feel the same way I did about writing about trees, room for gardening and landscaping, and owning a single family home... Dreams, (this time big ones), that may come true... if we just dream enough and act on those dreams.

*For those who don't already know, Dawn is one of my favorite bloggers. She's been blogging since 2001 and writes very honestly and openly about her life. I have the utmost respect for her writing and her role in enlightening people about open adoption. Oh, yeah, and when they bought a house last year, it had carpet in the kitchen. And it was a house very much in the 60's -- with lots of character.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Tiny Flowers

I just love really small flowers, particularly if they have unique colors and design like those below. Since I don't have the time and energy needed to write a real post right now, I offer you these photos of tiny flowers, taken at Longwood Gardens last March and yesterday. (This is just to give you an idea of how tiny they are)

The sign says that the flowers below, called tubergen squill, are native of Northwestern Iran. It just fascinates me that I can see them here, since them come originally from such a far away place. I also feel glad to know a bit more about Iran (apart from the negative picture painted by the media and also recent history) because I watched two of Majid Majidi's films, Children of Heaven (which I have recommended before) and Color of Paradise (beautiful, but utterly heartbreaking - I have to blog about it more some other time).
These "rarer" white ones were part of one of one of the "carpets" of squills found at Longwood. I'm glad to report that my worries were completely unfounded. The snow didn't get these lovely flowers, since they hadn't blossomed yet then.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Watch a Great Film and Vote for Kiri Davis! Only Two Days Left!

I was going to write this whiny post about how unhappy I am with blogging, but I decided to do something different and proactive instead!!

In these past 10 years here in the U.S. I have learned to be very sensitive to issues of race and ethnicity (not that I didn't think and worry about them back in Brazil, it's just that here these issues are addressed in a more straightforward manner, but this is a subject for another post). In fact, there is this wonderful blog/ group forum that I read periodically (since some of the columnists are some bloggers in my blogroll) and that I want to join as well, it's The Anti-Racist Parent blog - for parents committed to raising children with an anti-racist outlook. I've wanted to write about this for a while now, but now I have a good reason since I'm going to ask you to watch and vote for a great film whose subject is race and ethnicity -- particularly the problems that young girls face regarding their self-esteem and their image. Oh, and by the way, while I'm here recommending sites, my academic blogging friend Yvette, just wrote a GREAT post about the new "redesigned" Uncle Ben's rice campaign and the way that the images of African Americans have been used to sell food and other items. Her links are a must read too.

OK, so here's the real announcement: the magazine for young females, Cosmo Girl is doing a film contest for films made by young girls. Kiri Davis created this very thought provoking and moving at times (I cried at the end of the test with the children and the dolls) film titled
A Girl Like Me. This is what she had to say about it:
"The issues my friends and I face inspired me to create this documentary. Through my interviews, it became extremely apparent how European beauty standards still maintain a dominant role in our society. Society imposes standards that affect us all no matter what your sex or race is. I hope the film helps girls everywhere understand that you can’t allow other people to define who you are. You have to define and celebrate yourself. You have to love the skin you're in!"
Go watch the film and vote for Kiri here! Voting ends this Friday, April 13, and you can vote once each day from each different computer you use, so spread the word!!! She was in third place until last night, but now she's in second. She deserves to win these 10,000 dollars -- it will help her go to college. You will have to install the latest version of Flash, if you don't already have it, and watch a commercial, but I think it's worth doing to help her.

Monday, April 09, 2007

My Parents' Voyages and My Life

(Written on Saturday, March 24. I didn't post it earlier because I was looking for some photos. I couldn't really find any and decided to post this anyway, but I found them just now!)

This afternoon we were at our friends’ house with a group of Brazilian folks from church. Pretty soon, my parents were the center of the attention and the conversation. I had just gone to help in the kitchen, but I only needed to hear a word here and there to know exactly what they were talking about.

I know all those stories by heart, since I heard them during my entire childhood. It was one of the topics of choice in my parents’ conversations with new acquaintances: their three years an a half in Europe back in 1969-1972. I outlined some of the facts here (items 1-14), when I talked about my birth, but I never elaborated much upon this subject. This afternoon, when I had some moments to myself, I smiled when I reminisced about the influence that my parents’ experiences and “adventures” have had in my life and I immediately wanted to write this post.

I think it all began with the slides. I may have “inherited” my passion for photography in my genes since my dad always took lots of photos. Their photos from Europe are mostly slides, though. During the years my parents worked at a boarding academy in the Brazilian Southern countryside my dad often made slide presentations of the trips to Europe to the students in the Friday night vespers meetings. Once in a while, pretty rarely, in fact, he would show them to us at home.

There was a big box of postcards too, but I didn’t like to look at them too much, I preferred real photos, taken by my parents. To this day when I travel I don’t buy many postcards, unless they portray exactly what I saw or offer a panoramic view that I couldn’t have otherwise. I feel that postcards are so “artificial” in a sense; I like the real experience which is reflected in photographs. So what I liked the most about my parents’ photos and slides was that they had really been there and seen that. (Oh, my dad did take photos of some postcards to make slides – I really disliked those, since I felt cheated! - the photo on the left may be one of those slides, I have to check with my dad).

From an early age I was able to recognize European cities by looking at pictures of them (I happen to have a “photographic memory” too) and I never tired of hearing the stories of my parents’ trips. This afternoon they recounted a bit the story of my birth (I promise to write more about that some other time, it’s pretty interesting), but as the conversation drifted towards current issues, they went on to talk about their visits to Islamic countries. These occurred as part of the 4 months long camping trip that they took with my maternal grandparents and I. They traveled in my parents’ old, falling to pieces, Kombi VW van and toured most of Europe in it.
Here is the van parked in Berlin in the summer of 1972.

They visited Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and wanted to drive to Israel, which wasn't possible because once they had left an Islamic country and driven into Israel, they wouldn't have been allowed to drive back. The only way out would have been to put their car on a ship to Greece in order to return to Europe. To make matters worst, this part of their trip coincided with the events of Black September (1972)!! (Last year we watched Spielberg’s Munich together with keen interest). That must have been so scary! The borders were all closed, police and armed officials were on the roads. I think that in Jordan, they even "escorted" my parents with an army guy inside the van twice (one of these guys actually put his hand on my mom's thigh - ugh!). Then my mom, grandma, and I (barely 12 months old) stayed behind in a campground in Turkey with the van while my dad and grandpa flew to Egypt and then Jerusalem since that was their once in a lifetime opportunity to visit those places. So, as you can imagine, they have countless interesting stories to tell! I have to get these written down someday. I guess I have to help my mom write them.

I was busy in the kitchen, helping my friend prepare snacks for the crowd, but I returned to the living room for a moment, just in time to hear my friend ask me: "So, do you remember all those trips?" “Oh, no,” I replied, “I was just one year old!” And then after a while I thought to myself, yes, I don’t remember, but all these stories have defined my life and made me be who I am today. Even though I can’t have actual recollections of them, my parents’ adventures have left indelible marks in me so it’s almost as if I did remember.

I wish I could remember when I had my first birthday. My parents were visiting London and camping in Greenwich. Later when I learned about this place’s importance as the main “date line” I always felt connected to it somehow for having been there on my first birthday. A few days later they celebrated the occasion in Belgium with a little cake and if I “remember” correctly, some people in the campground gave then some delicious cookies or wafers to celebrate the occasion.

I wish I could remember the day I started walking. They were in Berlin, in front what I think is now the parliament building or something. I haven’t yet been able to determine which building it is and when I was in Berlin in 2000 I just felt a burning desire to know for sure where it was -- please check the van photo above, since I started walking across from that building and maybe one of you can help me determine where exactly it is. And here is a shot of me, all excited. That's my mom in the background:
I wish I could remember this little boy dressed in long black Arabic clothes with whom I appear in a photo. I don’t know exactly where either, the San Marco Piazza in Venice, perhaps? since there were lots of pigeons around...

For the longest time I longed to see the place where I had been born, the country that denied me citizenship, a fact that I deeply resented because I had to spend most of my life explaining to everyone who happened to find out where I was born that “No, I am not Swiss.” “Yes, I am Brazilian, as if I had been born in the Brazilian consulate, which is technically Brazilian soil.” “No, Switzerland doesn’t give their nationality to children of foreigners who are born there, they say that ‘cats that are born in the oven aren’t bread’” and so on…

I had mixed feelings when I finally got to go to Geneva back in 1999. I was there for 39 days, taking French classes in the same school where my father was studying when I was born (a small school in France, just across the border with Switzerland). On my 28th birthday I walked to the hospital where I was born although I didn't go inside and I had no idea in which building I had actually been born. And the following year, I went there with my husband too on our backpacking tour of Europe (We went on my father-in-law’s birthday, how interesting! How irrelevant! How I like digressions! :)

My parents’ time abroad is probably the reason why I’m here today, living as an expatriate. I took the next step, the one they didn’t get to take. Partly because my dad never received a call to go work as a missionary as they wanted, only one to go back to Brazil to work there, and partly because my mother was so homesick she just couldn’t take life away from her family anymore. And she still is full of saudade, the Portuguese language word for homesickness, longing, missing someone, nostalgia, etc… (Some say this word exists only in our language, it's out "contribution" to the world... ) This time my mom feels saudade of my brother who is living in China, and of us here. Her two only children, living abroad, so far away. It breaks her heart and I feel for her, but they planted the seeds, with all those stories, those slides, those recollections of things we had never lived, but longed to see nevertheless.


And I’m glad, in fact delighted, that I’m learning to write, am I not? I don’t have to tell you everything as I’m generally wont to do. I can come back another day and tell you more. Dreams, little ones, becoming reality, bit by bit.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

17 years ago today...

Well, if you haven't been reading my blog for longer than a year and you want to find out what happened 17 years ago today, you're going to have to read some older posts! ;)

The beginning of the story is here.

And what happened today, 17 years ago, is described right here. (I just edited the post to correct some minor errors).

Hint -- it's a "boy meets girl" story. So, if you like those and you haven't already read, you can go there and learn a bit more about me and my "better half!"

Very "fittingly" (is there such a word?) today we helped organize the celebration of our dear friends' 25th wedding anniversary. I spent the week scanning old photos of them and their family and ordered, designed and copied a church bulletin for the service. Then, our singing group from church sang a song for them* and I sang a duet** with a friend. Afterwards there was a really nice reception. So, it was a fun, if extremely tiring day (we left home at 9 a.m. and came back after 10 p.m.).

* and ** for Keiko (*"Amor, Amar" by Flávio; **"Canção do Amor" from Valdecir's wedding/Novo Tom's CD)

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Breakthrough in Dissertation Writing

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that I'm not very good at receiving feedback (to put it very mildly). I dreaded having to go over the comments of my advisor and the one reader who had looked at my dissertation chapters until now.

This all changed when a third reader (who happens to be my former advisor) got into the picture two weeks ago. It was the most amazing and welcome breakthrough that has taken place since this whole dissertation journey started years and years ago. I was hesitant to write about this, but I think this is not a subject that I would avoid addressing with the three people I'll be writing about. So, if they ever come across this blog, it'll be OK.

"Historical Background"
All right. A few words into why I changed advisors to begin with. After I finished my comprehensive exams, back in the old days of 2002, I realized that my original dissertation project (in children's literature -- concentrating on books for girls) wasn't going to take me anywhere. Besides, my advisor was extremely busy and I had a hard time meeting with him and producing.

The project I now wanted to pursue (my current dissertation) had been fine-tuned three times since I had first started it in 1998 when writing a research paper. I had transformed it into a bibliographic research paper and then turned it into the only paper for my comps (My exam constituted of 6 topics -- 1 in paper form [could have been 2 or 3, but I didn't pull it out], 3 in written exams, and 2 topics exclusively for the oral). My new advisor, who was one of two faculty members in my dept. who worked in this area, was more readily available for consultation and meetings and I thought that he would be very helpful to push me forward, which he in fact has.

Current Advisor
This slightly humoristic, if a bit bitter, post (Keiko, you have to click, OK?) summarizes the kind of feedback I tend to get from him. This other post, from 2005 is a bit more candid and probably should be edited for a "safer" blog -- but I'll leave it as is for now, if you want to take a look. I wrote a looong comment on it too, sharing a few more (slightly unsafe) things about this whole journey.

If you don't want to read those posts (the first one is short and fun, though :) my advisor's feedback, in a nutshell, concentrates in the mechanics of writing, not on the content, the structure, the phrasing. This is not only in the case of earlier drafts, but for later ones as well. Part of the problem has to do with experience. He has directed plenty of M.A. thesis, but mine is one of the first Ph.D.'s dissertations that he's directing. And part of it is just his personality, his style, his way of reading, which concentrates on the little things and not on the "big picture."

1st Reader
This committee member has been reading my work since last year because she is the only one with an expertise in Brazil. We have a great relationship, hers was the very first class I took when I was still a non-degree student, and I took two other classes with her and was a T.A. for her class for two semesters, including my very last semester, when I was pregnant with Linton.

However, her feedback always scares me, since she can be very blunt, as in: "what’s the evidence for this?"/ "again?"/ "you just said this"
She also has problems with the ideology and language used by some of the authors I'm citing and basing my work on. E.g. one comment directed at one theorist: "Why the tone of accusation and exposé?"
Otherwise, her feedback is fairly useful, such as in: "too more repetition in this pages"/ "explain"/ "unclear."

Last November, when she was writing recommendation letters for my applications, I had to send her one of my later chapters, still in rough draft, and exceptionally she responded to it electronically. Some of the comments were helpful, if not directly useful, and went much further into "content" than my advisor's:
“writing will need more work; some of it is fine; all of it is clear; but too often it’s perfunctory, lacking in style”
And: “poor sentence; needs reformulating – you tend to stick too much info in each sentence, instead of using subordinate clauses, or semi-colons, or separate sentences.”

“what’s your point in mentioning the preceding details? If there’s no point, omit; just say ‘in her brief discussion' – but how ‘close’ can such a brief examination be??”

Logistical Problem with Previous Two Readers
I have been emailing new drafts of chapters to my advisor, but he prints them out, annotates them by hand and snail mails them to me! He says that he will annotate electronically the better polished versions of the chapters. I truly hope so!

As for the 1st reader, I have to send her hard copies of each chapter. Thankfully my dept. secretary has offered to print them out for me and put them in her mailbox - phew!

2nd Reader (Former Advisor)
This person has been one of my main mentors during graduate school. My interests are very similar to his and I took all of his classes. I also was his T.A. for a semester. Right now I feel a bit sad that he's no longer my advisor, but I know that I made the right decision, since I really care for the research that I'm doing. And besides, he's still in my committee and is helping me finish!

(I wrote what follows shortly after receiving his first email with an electronically annotated version of my first chapter, on March 20, 07)

He takes his analysis of my writing a step further than the previous reader, he actually notices the bigger “trends” of my writing that need to be improved, such as what he said in his email to me: “In the first 12 pages, topic sentences tend to rely on ‘is’ clauses, which describe an existing situation, but do not promote a looking forward, and do not shape an argument. This lends an unnecessarily static quality to the prose.”

Other comments in the text about this same problem:

“This has the same format as some other topic sentences, that of a list of Academy Award nominees.” (I thought his was hilarious!! And right on – note how my sentence began: “The writers chosen for the case studies are:”) – isn’t it just precious when one can SMILE with feedback? And not feel irritated like I did with my advisor’s minute corrections of punctuation and grammar or slightly devalued and criticized by the other reader?

“Here is another flat “is” declaration for a topic sentence at the beginning of a paragraph. It lacks the dynamic of an argument.”

“It would be helpful if you could use the active voice more than the verb “to be” with an adverb or adjective.”

And “Lilian, I notice here a tendency which I would like to see you curb. The tendency is to start the sentence with a kind of list, without projecting the line of argument.”

Oh, and he told me at the end of the email to give myself two hours to work on this and to CALL HIM ON HIS OFFICE if I wanted to! If that’s not good advising, I don’t know what else is.

Just what I needed. And more. I just hope it continues this way because… there’s just one “small” problem. He annotated 12 pages, there are around 250 or more to go. But maybe I can start revising them and following his advice already – particularly the point about the topic sentence with the verb to be – he will be more OK with the writing in later chapters. We’ll see.

Now I have to go back to work.

After I wrote this, I revised the 12 annotated pages and sent them right back to him. He was impressed by how quickly I did that and sent it back to me the next day. He continued reading the chapter and we have been emailing annotated versions of my first chapter back and forth. He finished reading it and sent his latest annotations two days ago. I revised them today (adding several more paragraphs) and I emailed it to him two hours ago.

I've never felt so motivated about rewriting and editing. Just like Jo(e) commented on that first post I wrote about feedback, I needed to receive feedback from other committee members. I regret not having sent him my stuff earlier. I didn't do it because my advisor only wanted me to send "finished, polished" chapters to them. But little did he and I know that to get them polished in the first place I might need their help. I'm extremely relieved and think that now I can quickly finish.

My fourth committee member is going on sabbatical next year and won't be back until January. That means that I have to defend before the end of May. YAY! I can't wait. I think the day that this defense is set will be one of the happiest in my life. As I've written here before, I can't see the light at the end of the tunnel until the date is set.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Cherry Blossoms

We had a lovely time in D.C. and... my husband was with us after all.* I took very few photos, compared to the number I usually take, and most of them were of people -- my brother-in-law and his family, my parents, my sons and our family. Here are some of the photos I took of the blossoms last Monday. Enjoy.
I have decided to dedicate this month of April solely to the dissertation since my parents will be in China in May. I'll try to keep on blogging, though, as a reward for working. I'm glad to report that the never ending data analysis is DONE!! Now I can move on and actually finish writing. Stay tuned for updates.

* "Thanks" to having to miss his trip to Brazil (non-refundable discount ticket) because he lost his travel document last time he went. Two weeks ago he thought he had "found" the missing document and decided to travel. When we were leaving for the airport and he was double checking his passport, he noticed that it was last year's document, so he had to abort the trip. We enjoyed his company, though -- we gotta make lemonade out of lemons, right?