Friday, February 27, 2009

Despair and... Exhilaration?

The problem with having a thrifty lifestyle ingrained into you is that when the time comes and you hit rock bottom financially, there's nearly nothing that you can cut!! I've been thinking of doing little things like unplugging every single thing from the outlets (except for dishwasher, stove and wall oven and our radio clock) whenever they are not in use to save electricity. I already don't use the clothes dryer (I hang all clothes in the basement to dry now in winter) and it's not even installed because with the small swing door space that we have it can only fit when on top of the new washer -- which is a different model and hence not stackable). Our thermostat is usually on 59 and 62 downstairs in the afternoon. I love long showers, so I take them every other day to save oil. Same things most days with boys and baths.

I do have this weird ("Mid-western-like" according to American Family) habit of stocking up on non-perishable food (rice, beans, lentils, pasta, dry cereals and powdered milk from Brazil, corn flour [Brazilian] and other things like canned things). My mom is like that too, I guess it may be a genetic thing. Anyway, I am avoiding buying more food and we'll try to consume most of what we have before we buy more. One of the reasons why I always like to have everything in hand is that I never plan too much ahead and I like to have the ingredients for whatever strikes my fancy to cook. Probably not the best idea, I guess.

Anyway... all this to say that I'm despairing right now. Wondering how we'll survive two months from now when K's salary will cover the mortgage, my pitiful pay from the school will cover Kelvin's tuition and my health insurance and... we won't have money to pay any of the bills and the credit card payments. In sum. I need a job. NOW. I'm applying for one at one of the local YMCAs, but I don't know what to do with the boys! How can I even think of doing that? Getting a full time, split schedule (it's for before and after school care director) job? Anyway, I will apply for others too... including part time/night retail. Yes.

And I have to start working on the house to make it presentable and stage-able. Although the two non-renovated bathrooms are a bit problem. If we don't sell the house (a very real probability) one of our only options will be opening a home-based daycare. That will enable us to keep the house (if there are children, but I guess there's always a need for day care, right?). What a tough job, though. I'm not looking forward to that.

Well, and what about the exhilaration part of the post's title? It comes from the excitement of the rush of new ideas that come sweeping over us when necessity strikes. Isn't necessity the mother of invention? Hopefully we'll be able to come up with some ideas and get out of this. One thing we're doing right away is buying the domain names for my informative website on Brazilian literature. I know at least one of you didn't like my suggestion of having ads in my website, but I think it's just fair. I need to feed my family and if I can do so while providing a service to my country and its literature and the academic community too (and a big BOOOOO to the academic community now, please!) , I think it's great! Of course it won't be a really popular site, but hopefully it can be an outlet for my academic training and a good way to put to good use all the work and the time I put into my dissertation research. And... if it can have some moderate traffic and generate some income, even better!

So... yeah, that's where we stand. I'm in a relatively good mood, but I am despairing most of the time. Sigh. We'll see what will happen. What a week we've had!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Heartbreakingly (but Earnestly) Stubborn or "The Beans & the Dream"

Yes, I think that the recipe post was an semi-conscious attempt to hide the very sad post, or at least to diffuse the attention, lest my shame and my sorrow, not to say whiny tone, take center stage in this blog, since that's all I can write about lately. And my worries are very real. I am worried about me too, MemeGRL (thanks for your comment, it meant a lot to me), actually, this is very selfish -- I am worried about my family, about our finantial situation, about the burden that this house is, but hopefully things will be all right. Somehow. That's not what I want to write about today, though. I just want to share a significant fact about me, one which will be the background of discussions to come.
~ ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ ~
Last August, K's family had a brief reunion (with the exception of my fourth sister-in-law who couldn't come from Brazil) for us to meet the newest grandson* and spend sometime together. *For those who don't already know, my parents-in-law have four sons and now five grandsons, we're still waiting for a girl in this family...

And in one of the late night talks that we had we settled into an interesting conversation about how, looking in retrospect, each one of us would have changed in his or her educational and/or professional life.

My MIL said she would have gone into tourism earlier, maybe getting a degree in travel & tourism or just opening her agency earlier in life. K1 (my husband) revealed that he should probably have gone into architecture since it's much more creative than what he does now and he's probably talented enough. K2 said he might have gone into medical school as he originally planned (he's a pastor now) and his wife, who has a degree in education but is switching to nursing, expressed her desire to have gone into nursing earlier, and, most importantly, to have studied English and gone to school earlier here in the U.S. (they've been here for 8 years and only now she's going to school). K3 was sleeping, but I learned many months later that he wanted to go to medical school too (I was astonished to learn that, Rene -- and, BTW, what would you have changed, do respond in the comments?). K4, the youngest, who finished his electrical engineering degree only 3 years ago said something about, I don't recall, maybe about getting an MBA. And my FIL was sleeping (as were the parents of the newborn), so we didn't get to hear his take.

Finally, it was my turn. And I, unemployed, with my recently acquired "useless" PhD still fresh in my hands, but without any future prospects and with an acute awareness of basically having "wasted" the past 10 years of my life getting this degree... I just looked down and said, meekly:
I wouldn't have changed a thing.
And I wouldn't, so I continued, "I know it sounds really really stupid, I'm the one here with a degree and without a job, but, really, I did exactly what I always wanted and I wouldn't change a thing."

I have tears in my eyes now thinking about this and I do feel naive, stupid, pathetically selfish and idealistic, but this is all true.

The Brazilian author Orígenes Lessa wrote a poignant book that I read when I was young (15 or 16 maybe?)* and which has haunted me ever since. It is titled O feijão e o sonho (1938) (The Bean[s] and the Dream) and the main character is man who dreames of becoming a writer. The main consequence of him being such a dreamer is that he is unable to support his family (his wife and daughter) properly, hence the title -- he cannot put beans (a food staple in Brazil) on the table. He agonizes over this, but can't give up on his fruitless dream and I think that his wife ends up leaving him. I identified with that man somehow and wondered if -- because I had such foolish dreams -- I would find difficulty one day in helping bring "the beans" home. Well, I don't need to wonder any further, here I am. I have the dreams, but the beans, they continue to elude me. Why do I have to be so stubborn and passive? Why do I refuse to regret making a suicidal "career path" and studying something that, to quote that now infamous (for me) Newsweek article, is one of the "undergraduate majors for which employment prospects are so dicey your parents practically beg you to go to a trade school instead."

So, yeah... I think I'll go work at a retail store and/or open a home based daycare facility here so I can help support my family. That's what I should do ahead and do. Or, perhaps, as my BIL and his wife suggested, go to school to become a nurse-midwife or something more reliable like that.

Why do I still cling to the stupid dream?

* Although the book was not originally written for children, the author later became a prominent writer of young adult literature, so when I read this book it was marketed to young readers, in spite of its complex themes.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Vegetarian Dolma (or Sarma) made with Cabbage Leaves (my mom's recipe)

Note: The intro paragraphs were written on 10/21/08 when I started this post.

I am very hungry right now because I've been in a clear liquids diet since 1 pm today. I'm going to have a colonoscopy done tomorrow because I want to find out whether I do have IBS or some other condition [I didn't have anything, so IBS was "diagnosed" as culprit for my past problems]. So, anyway, I cannot help but think about food, and since last week I did some cooking and took photos (yeah, my husband is beginning to think that I am the crazy photo taking woman, but I'm simply his crazy blogging wife).

So, this is not exactly a recipe, it's more just photos and a description of how to make one of my mom's and, coincidentally, my husband's most favorite dishes. I think this must be the fifth to seventh time (maximum 10th perhaps) that I prepare this dish since we got married 13.5 years ago. It's not even that it's hard to make (it is, in fact, very easy), it's just that I'm horribly lazy, that's why.

Before coming here to post this I had no idea that this dish was called "Dolma" (I googled the original ingredients, "grape leaves, rice, meat" and found the name. Apparently, if it's made with cabbage, it should be called "Sarma," and it is a Greek, Turkish and Middle Eastern dish. I think we have it in Brazil because there are many Turkish immigrants there (as well as Lebanese).

My mom calls it by a funny name, trouxinha , which means a small bundle of cloth. Trouxa [pronounced something like trow-shah] actually refers to clothes put inside a larger piece of cloth, and then bunched and tied up at the top. It's something that could be put on the tip of a stick and carried on one's back, like the one that the boy in Norman Rockwell's The Runaway was carrying. Please let me know if there's another word for "trouxa"* in English -- maybe it's just bundle! But I digress, of course... another name that this dish (more often the grape leaves variety) has in Portuguese is charuto (cigar).

OK, so how do I make it?

  • large cabbage or cabbages, since only the biggest outer leaves are used, remove them carefully so they come out whole.
  • several cups of white rice (I used basmati, but any variety will do)
  • one (or more, depending amount of rice) minced onion
  • vegetarian ground "beef" (I used the Boca burger crumbles, but my favorite is actually the Quorn grounds -- I highly recommend Quorn, from the U.K., as having the best veggie meats ever)
  • salt, seasonings (such as Goya Adobo -- I use it a lot because it doesn't have MSG, or Sazon - lots of MSG, but yummy) olive oil, pepper [if you like]
  • whole garlic cloves
  • fresh mint leaves, minced (optional)
First blanch large cabbage leaves in boiling water and trim some of the hard, thick stem part off. Then, rinse the white rice and drain it. Sautée the chopped onion in vegetable oil until it's nice, soft and tasty (it caramelizes -- this is how every single dish I make starts, sautéeing onions, Brazilian style) and add the vegetarian ground beef, the garlic, salt and any seasonings and cook for a bit. After this mixture cools off, mix it with the raw rice and the chopped mint leaves (optional). That's how it looks like:
Then prepare a few pots, oiling them lightly - I use at least two pots, because they cook better if there are not that many layers. I then fill each leaf with the rice mixture making a bundle and close each bundle, putting it seam side down in the oiled pots. I then put several cloves of garlic in between the bundles. Those will cook and be very delicious to eat with the finished dish. I then add water to the pot, enough to cover the bundles. Add some salt to the water, so the dish won't be too bland. Cook until the rice is done and enjoy!
Ready to enjoy (with garlic clove):
I think I'm really hungry now. Too bad that's not the dish I'm making tonight (it's brown rice -- already cooked in my rice cooker and vegetarian stroganoff). ;-)

* Of course I need to make everything even more confusing for you by adding that "trouxa" is also a term used to describe a "good for nothing" person in Brazil... ;-)

A Door Closes

Edited to add: Perhaps I should have titled this "I Close a Door"

In spite of the fact that I suspected that it was coming, I was still upset by the news that I did not pass my training to teach online here (I learned about it yesterday afternoon). Not that I really wanted to do it because saying that I did not enjoy teaching there is a tremendous understatement. The problem is that we really, really needed the money, so it was a bit of a mercenary job. And now I -- who was already super stressed out regarding the possible and very real need to try and sell this house (probably at a loss) -- am just so discouraged and worried about the future that I cannot even express.

On the one hand I have to admit that I am relieved because I felt chained to the work which included arduous hours grading (because I did my best to give the student actual feedback, unlike some of my colleagues -- I was in touch with 5 other candidates who did the first part of the training with me) and none of the intellectually challenging part of teaching (preparation, freedom to create my own syllabus, to choose what I get to teach, etc.), but on the other hand I feel the weight of failure on my shoulders. And that weight is heavy, very heavy indeed.

Lately I've noticed that my morale is low* because of the tenuous, complicated situation in my work at my son's school. In a nutshell, I am technically only a teacher's "aide" and, as such, I cannot make any big decisions. In addition, my way of dealing with children is quite different from the "old school" way of the other teacher/principal. Add to that the fact that I'm not the best of disciplinarians (the opposite of her) and I have two of my sons with me -- and she sometimes takes upon herself the role of educating them, which is OK with, but doesn't make for a very confident mother/teacher -- and you've got a really complex, almost toxic mix. I am happy there, the work is very relaxing. It doesn't pay well and I always leave 2-3 hours after school is out because of the things I have to prepare. However, I think that my self-esteem is being undermined, though, in spite of the fact that I don't feel it consciously. I can only pick up on that because I've been feeling depressed lately, with bouts of crying. Of course there's the whole thing with the uncertain future, etc, but still...

And now this. On a personal level, this feels a hundred times worse than when K lost his job back in 2007. That was an external situation we had no control over. This one feels like a conscious choice from my part to fail -- although I did try hard, but obviously not enough. I can rationalize this failure in many ways and some of these rationalizations are correct: my mentor was not very helpful and kind of set me up to fail when she called me on that second week and reduced me to tears and a pile of stress the next day, the requirements are almost unreasonable (having to grade 40 short responses in only 48 hours and still give meaningful feedback), and the whole thing emphasizes the system working smoothly in detriment of the students (it's a for-profit institution after all). And I could list several other rationalization that could help me feel better.

In the end, though, it all comes back to me and how "flawed" I am in some basic aspects of life and living: how I am not organized and disciplined enough, how I don't put duty over pleasure at all circumstances, how I tend to leave things for the last minute (and the fact that I we are two hours back and I had until 2 am to finish the grading didn't help my faulty reasoning). And those very real faults contributed to my failure. Sure, I can accept that I was not a good fit and that if I continued I'd probably struggle in the future and that there are probably many other jobs that can take advantage of my strong suits and in which my faults won't be a problem, BUT, which are those jobs and how am I ever going to come across them?

Blogging this is making me feel slightly better, but I'm pretty depressed right now. I will try to be back soon because I have other things (somewhat related to this) to share. So, see you in a bit. ;-)

* Originally I had written that "my psyche is already a bit damaged," but I thought that this was too strong, not to mention a bit preposterous, considering how little I actually know about psychoanalysis ;-)

Friday, February 20, 2009

That Feeling of In-Betweeness That Won't Go Away

A friend of ours, who was born in Brazil, but who lived most of his life in Bolivia and in the U.S. was flabbergasted when he fist saw me after I came back from my recent trip to Brazil.

"How was the trip?" he asked, all excited (and jealous, since his mom lives in Brazil and he hasn't been back there in years).

"It was OK," I responded matter-of-factly, perhaps a tad unenthusiastically, "Just four days, you know... not much."

"How can you say that?" he exclaimed indignantly, "How can you talk about your trip to Brazil like that?" And he teased me quite a bit for the remaining of that day and afterwards.

Two or three weeks later I tried to explain my reaction to him and I've been blogging these reasons in my head ever since that first conversation took place.

This was only my second time going for a few days to Brazil. K has done it literally countless times, as have his brothers. Even my two SILs who live(d) here have gone a few times. I only went in Oct-Nov 07, the day after K was laid off and now in January. I loved my first trip. I got to go out to lunch with some of my closest friends and in my favorite restaurant (the photos for one of my recent posts were taken on that day), and I spent a nice day with my parents, before getting my hair colored the next day and then going to the airport.

This time was not very different, with the exception that I wasted a whole afternoon and evening in the day I arrived waiting with my friends who went to visit a family they knew to get legal advice and we (they drove me to my parents') only arrived after midnight at my parents' house (that's when I wrote my post). I went to the hair stylist on Friday and spent Saturday and Sunday with my parents, but there were a few key differences. First, I had grading to to for the online job which took most of my day on Sunday. Second, our friends (a couple and their 18 month old daughter) brought me to my parents' house and stayed there with me. Third, I spent too much time at the hairdresser's on Friday (over 5h), doing a useless treatment after my hair had been colored (bad decision). All these factors combined (plus not seeing any of my friends other than the couple who gave me a ride and not eating at my favorite place for lack of time) made my brief -- but longer than the first one of just 2 days -- stay unsatisfactory. I left feeling it hadn't been enough.

This is what I've always feared about short trips like that and that's why I thought that K was crazy because he seemed to enjoy them so. I felt positively about my first one, but this last one just made me crave Brazil much more. And, worse yet, I felt bad for going and leaving the boys behind. Kelvin has already been asking when we're going to go to Brazil again and I just don't know what to answer! We've been going annually, but now I think we just won't be able to afford it anymore! :-(

So, I tried to convey some of these things to my friend and he kind of understood. He is planning to do such a weekend trip himself, to go, in his words "Just go hug his mother." And now I'm back to square one -- I feel like I don't want to go only for a few days ever again. I really need to stay at least 20-30 days, minimum. And see my friends, that's very important.

In the end, what I'm left with is that old, well known (to a seasoned expatriate like myself) feeling of in-betweeness that I know won't ever leave me. There are moments in which the longing, the saudade of my country is just too much, just too overwhelming to put even in words. Sometimes they don't last long, but the problem is that in the past I've been really spoiled by planning a trip almost every time that I felt the urge to go. I've gone back precisely 12 times in 12 years (not exactly yearly, though), but I want more...

It's an eerie experience, that of living life as an expatriate. Your life, yourself is split in two. Before and after. And the before is always with you. 25 years is a long time in one's life and almost every moment I am living in my head part of my life in those 25 years. I see myself walking around the university during that first year, or that crazy last year in the months that preceeded our wedding. Last week I dreamt that I was back at USP as a student and that felt pretty strange.

Mostly, though, I just feel and "see" the way the sun shone through the trees, the way the air felt in the winter. The way it could get quite chilly in the beginning of summer even. How it used to rain and be pretty cold at the beach in the middle of summer (this is the strongest difference for me, all these years later the fact that here, it NEVER gets chilly [into the 50s] during the summer, it's just stuffy hot all the time). I really wish I could capture those feelings better in words, but words fail me. And I hardly ever write about it here either. I know Aliki always encourages me to do so and I'm sure she'll be thrilled to read this post.

It's not easy to live this, though. Always divided, always split in two or more parts, because I feel for my boys... I want them to know and love Brazil too, although their experience will be very different from mine, and thinking of them I feel even more divided, fragmented in many persons -- the girl who grew up in Brazil, the student who came to the U.S., the mother that love her children and wants them to experience both cultures, the "immigrant" that I now am -- that's taking a while to sink in.

So, there you go again, more angst from me to you, now from the expatriate variety. Enjoy ;-)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Up & Down, Up & Down...

My apologies for the repeated edits!
I was going through my post drafts and I found this one, from five months ago: August 26, 2008 and I decided to post it because it reflects a lot of the feelings I've been having lately. It is also an interesting peek into how I was feeling about my newest gig, the online teaching thing. Being able to have this retrospective look is one of the reasons why I love journaling so much -- I often read my old journals and comment on something that turned out differently or marvel at the directions that our lives took. So... it's good to go back in time, so back to August 26, 2008, we go...

I just got a lovely comment in the previous post, from my friend Aliki (never mind, that post, BTW, right now I'm totally not living that positive spirit):
I love the spirit of this post--you're right, once you've tackled the Ph.D hurdle, no one can stop you!

How ARE you? I've missed you over at my place and was thinking about you...
Thanks for asking, Aliki, and I'm missing everyone too. I'm wrapped up in home renovations, weekend guests from Brazil (more this coming weekend), that training I mentioned earlier, and more, so I haven't had time to read and comment on other people's blogs :-( .

And, to answer your question, my friend, right now, this very moment, I'm really, really down. The "wishing to sit on the floor and just cry" down variety. Wallowing in stupid self-pity and sadness and wondering... and when I try to talk it over with K it all comes down to me, the fact that I didn't apply for any fellowships, or adjunct positions, or... I don't know, postdocs that don't exist but which could materialize. In sum, my defeatist attitude, my laziness, really, my sensitiveness that paralyzes me even before I go out there because I instinctively want to protect myself from failure. (I do know my limitations, though... and here we go in circles...). True, I haven't done much, and what I've been doing (see link up there) has been depressing at times.

So... hopefully blogging will help me. And apologies again for not even getting to the happy posts, to the photos and the fluff. The fluff can wait, believe me, I've been spending too much time on fluff, avoiding the real stuff. And now that reality has hit hard (need to be "financially useful") I have to try and pull myself together.

A few things. I've been very ambivalent about this latest development (see "training" link above). When I first mentioned to my closest committee member that I was going to pursue that I wrote something about that institution not being well regarded by academia, etc, and she responded by telling me to forget that, because they were doing really well, and that she'd be curious to know about how it went.

When I began the training I felt quite depressed reading the other applicants' bios and realizing that although several had been comparing "traditional classes" to online education (in one of the assignments) by saying that the instructors had the same qualifications... I was (at that point) the only Ph.D. around. Then two others joined and I felt much better. Until today. We're doing the specialized training now, and I thought that all the people who would be "facilitating" this class (and I do think that the "collaborative learning" method they use is useful because I did learn a lot from my peers) would be in the humanities, because it is a humanities class, but no! One person has an MS, another is a nurse. So... this whole thing? I don't know if I like it too much. One thing it is not, it's not really "teaching" the way we know it

[and here ended my post from August] Some quick thoughts because I need to go try and write some emails offering my teaching to colleges and universities in t he are.

I am still holding off on the "fluff" -- the 365 project photos, although I've posted at least one of my (stupid) music posts already. My morale has improve with the ability to make some money through the school (although that has its own negative side, I have to blog about that some time) and the online gig, but I still need to find other sources of income (my new year's resolution). The online work proved to be extremely stressful and I don't know yet whether I have passed the training or not. So, the jury's still out on whether I'll continue to have this (important) source of income or not. I know I kind of messed up, but I don't know how I could have done things differently -- just by being another person, organized, systematic, disciplined. All that I'm not.

Ok, I really have to go, K would be upset if he knew I was posting this, so... here it is.

(ETA) P.S. I think this was the only post with a direct link to my prospective employer. I thought I had posted and now I realize I hadn't and now I realize why none of you knew where I was working. I probably shouldn't have the link, but, frankly, I don't care at this point.

It's Good to Know I'm not Alone

Thanks to all of you who commented in my last post. I was especially happy to see that other people face the same struggles. This is a sore subject for me, I must confess, and the fact that nobody was the least confrontational, even when disagreeing with me was nice and reassuring.

I wanted to refer you to the latest post by Dawn who addressed the same subject, but from another angle, that of a stocky child, not a skinny one. It's sad when parents inadvertently make us suffer, particularly when they had the same problems and then pass them onto us.

And, just for curiosity, I'd like to add a few details about my experience. Besides being skinny (I'm always a few pounds under 100) I'm also short (around 5' 3 or a bit less), so it's hard to find pants that are not too long. I found out a few years ago that the pants (especially jeans and corduroy pants -- I LOVE those in the winter and I have them in many colors) that fit me the best are the ones for girls in size 14. 16 is just too long and sometimes too big in the waist.

The hardest thing to buy are bras. After the two pregnancies, my rib cage expanded, so I'm between 34-36. A or even AA is huge for me. And, besides, what's absolutely infuriating is that an A or AA cup in 34 or 36 is always way bigger than 32. I just don't get that!! So, the solution is again buying girl's bras (I prefer those with underwire, I know it's not the healthiest thing, but it makes things look a tiny bit better). Problem is... the plastic things that hold the straps together in these girl bras are flimsy and break easily! That's upsetting. My other SIL (not the one who blogs, the one who's famous for her party decoration abilities ;-) insists that I should try finding something in the many drawers at V. Secret stores, but the prices and the profound dislike of the store prevents me from even trying.

I used to buy bras in Brazil and they fit me OK, but now there's been an "inflation" of bra sizes even in Brazil and they're all huge now. Sigh. Not to mention that there are several types of blouses (particularly tight fitting ones or ones with a V cut -- I HATE V cuts!) that I just can't wear. That blouse from the pictures in the previous post is one that was a gift from a friend and it's an unflattering pattern for me.

I think I had other things to share, but I guess this is enough for now. Thanks again. It feels really good to know that I'm not alone.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Skinny is NOT Beautiful

I have tons of things I need to blog about and yet I don't. I feel blocked, bottled up, overwhelmed by so many conflicting feelings inside. So, I'll try to write a quick post about something completely off the radar right now. It'll probably not be very articulate, but I don't care. I've wanted to write about this subject for a looong time now.

For some reason, my SIL's posts sometimes elicit a quick, strong reaction from my brain and prompt me to come here and blog too (this [and the following post] was one example -- BTW, I want to go back to those posts, their repercussion is still percolating in my brain). In any case, it feels good to be "unblocked" for a little bit.

So, today my SIL wrote a really quick post that has to do with how we feel about weight and being skinny and this is a really touchy subject for me. Whenever people have discussed weight on their blogs I have this reaction that when people discuss body issues I'm overcome by this feeling that because I'm skinny (and, supposedely beautiful because of that) have no reason to complain about underweight and I get really upset about it. I've written some comments to that tune to Jo (former Leery Polyp, now at The Modernity Ward).

First, a disclaimer, I'm not going to discuss BEAUTY here. I think everyone is and can be and feel really beautiful, no matter their body type. I'm just going to vent about how I feel when people discuss weight issues. Is that understood? Thanks!

After reading SIL's post, I wrote this comment:
Hmmm... I don't know, maybe it's just a natural reaction at being "brainwashed" by so many sources about how being skinny is beautiful. I, for one, completely disagree because those who want to be skinny have never BEEN, ever since they were little children, that "sickly" kind of skinny whole legs look like starving African children's legs on any given day (I have several photos from years ago with weird angles and from which you get that impression). I have, though. So, for me, whenever I gain a tiny amount of weight I feel healthier.

I guess it's all, like they say in Physics, depend[ent] on one's point of reference. sigh.
What I mean is... it may be "easier" being skinny because people tend to be envious or you and say flattering things about how nice you look, etc... but I think that being underweight (and people like me are not underweight by choice, but by genetic predisposition, I eat normally -- a lot even, if I'm hungry and like the food) is also problematic in terms of body issues and self-esteem.

First, growing up skinny is quite bad because everyone wonders if you're healthy and normal. "Look at those tiny legs (derisively called cambitos, in Portuguese)," a well meaning aunt or teacher will say, "Give this child some food," or some such thing. Unfortunately my mom worried a lot and took me to doctor after doctor, to no avail (it turns out I just have her genes, she's always been skinny too). I try to refrain from making the same comments about my older son's skinny legs, but it's hard, I understand my m om now. He took after us...

Look at what happened to me one year during graduate school after I had my annual physical -- the doctor worried about my weight, asked if I had any eating disorders (of course I said "No way!") and referred me to a nutritionist!!! I felt so insulted! I went, but of course she couldn't find anything wrong with me.

What upsets me the most about my body is my flat-chested-ness. I can't STAND even to go past a Victoria Secret store. Looking at their catalog is sheer torture for me. I am not ashamed in the least of saying the I do want a b00b job and that I will probably get one whenever I can afford it. I have the right to feel beautiful too. Two of my best friends (who are twins) did it many years ago, they were even "worse" than me in that department. The surgery simply made them look like average (or even less than average) women.

Exhibit A:Exhibit B:If these photos don't convince you, I don't know what will. I wish I could be happier with my body, but I'm not. The skinny legs, arms and sometimes sunken face (I do loose weight easily and it shows) do not bother me, but I really would feel more beautiful and, obviously sexier, if could be less flat. (Oh, and I should point out that at least I have one thing going for me, I have a nice, very Brazilian b00ty, also inherited from my mom ;-). My rational, fledgling feminist mind tells me that I shouldn't feel this way, that it's the fault of the people in the fashion industry, or even the evil p0rn industry with its blown up, absurdly disproportionately endowed women. I can't convince myself, though.

In addition, it doesn't help much that my br*easts served me very well and produced lots of milk to feed my babies for 5 years -- that long period b-feeding only made them smaller, poor things. Good thing the opposite happened with my other sister-in-law. Lucky her! (she did it only for two, years though, one at a time).

So, this is the post that I've been wanting to write for many years now. I originally wanted to title it "I'm going to have a b00b job and I don't care what the feminists say" or some such silly thing ... ;-) but I don't need that right now. And... who knows, I might never have the surgery done in the end. I may never have the $ or, perhaps, be fearful since I can't stand doctors, hospitals, and I've never ever had surgery in my life (except for removing my tonsils when I was 4). The anesthesia they gave me when I had the colonoscopy was the first one I got since the surgery at 4 years old (which I remember, incidentaly, especially right before getting the anesthesia, breathing a sweet smelling thing, and when I woke up). It was a strange feeling...

Well... you'll know it all, since I intend to keep on blogging for many years to come! Well, it feels good to have all this off my chest -- not that there was much there in a literal way to begin with! ;-)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Day Meme

I'd seen this on facebook, but I got it from Dawn's.

♥ What are your middle names?
Our middle names are our mothers' last names (maiden names), that's the way it is in Brazil. I kept all my names, so I have three last names (or, if you prefer, two middle names, my mom's and dad's and one last name -- my husband's). I won't share "last names" on the blog.

♥ How long have you been together?
April 7th, 1990. (only 6 days after Dawn and Brett! ;-)

♥ How long did you know each other before you started dating?
A week. (just like Dawn again!)

♥ Who asked who out?

K asked me. That's how it used to be in Brazil, not anymore, apparently.

♥Who said I love you first?
Me! I wrote it on a little card and gave it to him while we were at the bus stop waiting for him to go back to his uncle's house. He responded after he saw an "I love you" sticker on a bus and he said something like "he did too..."

♥ How old are each of you?
Both of us are going to be 38 this year, he on May 26, me on July 7.

♥ Whose siblings do/did you see the most?
His because mine I only see "every two years for two days" (OK, for about a week) since he moved first to China and then to New Zealand. We're at his brother's house right now.

♥ Do you have any children together?
Yep, two lovely boys.

♥ What about pets?
We have a cat named Blues, we got him when we bought our first home back in 2001.

♥ Did you go to the same schools?
Same university (University of São Paulo in Brazil) and same graduate school institution.

♥ Are you from the same hometown?
No way! Not even the same state. His family is from the Brazilian Northeast and mine from the South.

♥ Who is the smartest?
I think we're equally smart.

♥ Who is the most sensitive?
I am much more sensitive. He's become more nervous/ stressed out after kids came along and I became calmer, though.

♥ Where do you eat out most as a couple?
We hardly ever eat out. We sometimes go with the family to chain places such as Olive Garden, but once in a while we go to Indian restaurants, which we love.

♥ Where is the furthest you two have traveled together as a couple?
We've traveled a lot. The further South was the southernmost state in Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, the further West, California (LA area), the further North -- Berlin and Hanover in Germany/ Amsterdam in Holland (perhaps Quebec city is almost as far North?), the further east... maybe Austria (Salzburg)?

♥ Who has the worst temper?
I have the worst one, I think. I get super annoying with something he does something I'm unhappy with. And I tend to be "explosive" at times.

♥ Who does the cooking?
I do. It's his only deffect -- the not cooking. I like to joke that otherwise, he's perfect ;-)

♥Who is the most social?
Both of us are very social. We're slightly shy on the surface and take a while to warm up to new people. I think he's more outgoing only because he really enjoys (and is very good at) asking questions to people we just met and finding out about their lives. I just can't even get myself to start talking to them.

♥ Who is the neat-freak?
Neither of us, but poor K learned to take care of his stuff in boarding school when he had a neat freak roomate (still his best friend). So, poor him, having to put up with his messy, disorganized life. I'm improving, little by little. He's much better at tidying up than I am.

♥ Who is the most stubborn?
I think I am. Yeah, he's much more flexible.

♥ Who wakes up earlier?
K does because he has a long commute to work. He'd sleep past 8 with me if he didn't have to get up and if we didn't have to bring Kelvin to school. Poor Brett.

♥ Where was your first date?
Hmm, we were going to see a movie at college where my parents worked, but they weren't showing one, so we went back to my house and we listend to music (my favorite tapes) and talked.

♥Who has the bigger family?
Immediate family, he does -- his parents had four sons, mine only two, my brother and me. Our extended families are about the same size, lots of aunts, uncles and cousins. His are younger than mine, since my mom is the youngest of 5.

♥Do you get flowers often?
Not that often, much less (hardly ever) in our early years of marriage, but more often now. I loved when he got flowers for me when I got back from Brazil once and also after my dissertation defense.

♥ Who do you spend the holidays with?
More often with his family.

♥Who does/did the laundry?
I do the laundry. I enjoy it.

♥ Who’s better with the computer?
He is (he can program, even), but I type faster ;-).

♥ Who drives when you are together?
He usually drives the most, but I pity him because we both dislike driving. He's more experienced, so I just let him do it on long trips (I kind of take advantage of him in this). I do it sometimes, though, particularly when he's tired and needs to sleep for a bit.

♥ Who picks where you go to dinner?
We hardly ever do, so it's easy, anywhere is a big treat.

♥ Who is the first one to admit when they’re wrong?
I think we both admit it, but he's better about it. I do it, but I get so frustrated about it that (sigh) Usually him. He’s like a thousand times nicer than I am.

♥ Who named your pet?
We named him together.

♥ Who wears the pants in the relationship?
(I didn't know this expression, but I think I get it). He does, but we do decide most things together.

♥ Who has more tattoos?
We both have a horror of tattoos.

♥ Who eats more sweets?
He does, but I love chocolate and I eat a lot too.

♥ Who cries more?
I cry much more, but he's cried several times too since we met.

♥ Are you still together?
Sure!! Why would anyone be doing this meme if they weren't?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Not So Sure

I shouldn't have been so sure, so confident in the fact that our house's value was unlikely to depreciate given the good neighborhood and the school district. It still hasn't happened, and maybe it won't, but when this deal took place we were a bit concerned.

It turns out that one of our friends from church is a dentist in town and many of his clients work for the recently acquired pharmaceutical company, including CEOs, and last week they were telling him in despair that the plant (and headquarters) is most likely going to be shut down. When he said that, K immediately turned to me and distressingly exclaimed: "Then we're never going to be able to sell our house!"

I panicked, of course, and started wondering whether we shouldn't try to sell it this Spring before people buy houses planning for the new school year. However, putting the house in the market is impossible right now, given the unfinished renovations and the necessary projects still-pending-for-lack-of-funds, not to mention the crisis, etc. And of course we don't know if and when the big pharma will be shut down, but if it is, this region will take a heavy blow from which it will take many years to recover. With two other big pharmas in the area (the one above is not the one K worked for), if they begin to struggle too then... wow, I really don't want to be here then! Well, hopefully K will get a job next year and we'll sell the house before the company is shut down. Keep your fingers crossed for us.

So, one more thing to add to our ever-growing list of worries. Great. Just what we needed right now.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Close to Home/ Quem é Você - Lyle Mays & Luiz Avellar

Zizi Possi (edited to add: she has a blog! that's so cool! And her name is pronounced "Zeezee" with the strongest syllable being the 2nd zee), who is mostly an interpreter, not a songwriter, is one of my favorite Brazilian singers, so I decided to begin with the song from her repertoire that moves me the most. As luck would have it, it's a good song to quick start my music sharing posts because it's actually composed by an American keyboardist and composer, Lyle Mays, who used to play with the Pat Metheny Group. I had to go hear samples of Mays's music in the Amazon website to figure out the title of the song in English (Close to Home - it's the last one in the CD linked to above, my heart fluttered when I realized I had found the song).

In Portuguese it is titled Quem é você (Who are you[?]/ who you are) and what moves me the most about this song is that it completely describes how I felt during most of my teenage years, right up until the day I met K, who was the "you" Luiz Avellar's lyrics are talking about.

Here are the words in Portuguese followed by my English translation:
Quem é você
Por que te vejo sem te ver
Quem é você
Sabe você,
Por que te sinto sem te ver
Quem é você
Por que te espero sem saber
Quem é você
Quem sabe lá,
No fim do coração
Você é só prá mim a solidão
Quando eu te ver,
Não sei se vou me conhecer
O que vai ser
Será por mim, por ti,
Porque decerto nem sei mais,
Por onde anda a minha paz
Quem é você
Por que te amo sem querer,
Alguém por mim,
Me faça enfim te conhecer
Pra eu ser feliz.

Who are you?
Why do I see you without seeing you
Who are you?
You know… you,
Why do I feel you without seeing you?
Who are you?
Why do I wait for you without knowing
Who you are
Maybe there -
At end of the heart
You are only loneliness for me
When I see you
I don’t know if I will recognize myself
What’s going to be
Will be for me, for you
Because perhaps I don’t even know anymore
Where my my peace is
Who are you?
Why do I love you without wanting it
Someone [please]
Make me get to know/meet you at last
So I can be happy.
Here's a video of Zizi singing the song. It brings me to tears, every time, because it makes me think of how much I "lived" the feelings it describes during my teenage years:

And here's a very long (9+ min.) clip of Lyle Mays and the Pat Metheny Group playing it in 1982 (I was 11!) at the Montreal Jazz Festival:

The last words of the song, "So I can be happy" link this song to the next two that I am going to share, and relate it to my obsession with the concept of happiness and joy that permeated my adolescent years.

Monday, February 09, 2009


This post by Anastasia made me realize that I can share with you some of my favorite music by embedding YouTube videos to the blog.

I don't know why I had not thought of this earlier! I've wanted to share music for a long time and I was just wondering how I could do it, Dawn does it once in a while using Quicktime, but she knows what she's doing (and doesn't have a free blogger account ;-).

So... I will start sharing soon. A lot of it will be Brazilian music and I don't know if you'll like it, but I'm doing this mostly for me -- so have a catalog of these songs that were/are so important in my life and why. I'm sure it'll do me good and I really need that right now.


I'm done teaching and submitting grades for my first class online. I expect to pass and become a "faculty" member, but I truly didn't enjoy the experience. I just got too stressed out and felt perennially "enslaved" by the class, without one moment of feeling carefree and relaxed.

Working at home is not for me, I think... unless it's something that involves set tasks that you get "done" and not this ongoing, never-ending weeks-on-end commitment. I may be offered to teach another pair of classes in a month or so like it happened with two of my colleagues. And I'll take them... because there's a mortgage and debt to pay. I have to be thankful for this opportunity, and not whiny. I know that too.

Well, anyway, I thought I'd let you know. Hopefully I'll have more energy and drive to post more often after this. And then, it'll all start again... well, that is, if I pass.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Monday, February 02, 2009

Working in the Margins Sucks, OR Tired, Frustrated, Worried (Rinse and Repeat)

I shouldn't be complaining, I know -- that's my initial "disclaimer," but I will anyhow, 'cause this is my blog, and it's all I have in life that brings me any visibility, worth, and a measure of external validation and appreciation -- something that I don't get with my line of marginal and "invisible" work. Oh, and this is a disgruntled post. I won't go back and edit, I'll just go with the flow, OK? You've been warned.

And to go back to the kind of symbolism that I really enjoy and have used many times in the blog (this is a prime example, I also mention it here) -- I'm still mystified that blogging materialized in my life in the shape of the now "legendary" (no longer available, only living in the memory of the readers, and I guess nobody's talking about it anymore) Invisible Adjunct blog.** Little did I know (although I've suspected it all along) that I was destined to become "her," but in an even more literal invisible way -- that of the online instructor or facilitator for a big for-profit educational enterprise (blah).

I've been crying a lot lately (sobbing at times, loudly if alone, in the car, or, silently, on the desktop, while the boys play in the laptop with their backs turned to me). I've been feeling really sensitive, I feel hurt with so many issues regarding my life's "fragmentation" that I've blogged about before in a veiled way. The impossibility of not having to face opposing views and intolerant people in the religious community I've grown up in (here in this country, it's sooo different in Brazil where my friends and family are, where belonging to this group is not so strange and much more mainstream) and the feeling that I don't really belong, I don't fit in.

I feel like sitting down and "crying a river" when I think that when I made that new year's resolution I was going to have to just go around offering myself to do jobs that don't even exist (!!!), that are not open and that may not even materialize. I have to go to Anastasia's archives and dig the sample letter that prospective adjuncts need to send around. Something like this:

Hello there, I'll say, this is me and here I am, I have this nice phd, in such and such, have taught for almost seven years such and such courses. i'm fluent in such and such languages -- I know that's not the language that you teach at your institution, but perhaps you'd like to give it a shot? You see, Brazilian culture is cool... it's a nice "emerging" nation with so much to offer, blah blah blah. Maybe you want to hire me to teach such and such a course. Do you need someone with my expertise and abilities? I'm really nice and friendly and I love the students and teaching
(HA! partly true -- undergrads in this country are such an unfeeling bunch, I feel like a fish out of the water still... I feel that I'm just so unamerican, how can I teach these kids? How can I even interact with them? I only have a handful of American friends (not counting online ok, folks)... blah blah blah.

How humiliating it is having to offer oneself to do a job that you don't even know people want? Or, more often, that you know that they don't want or need? I truly don't know how I'll do it, but I WILL YES I WILL Heaven help me!

So... working in the margins, this term that I coined for the blog and which is so "hip" and so depressing to have to live through. So, one of my current marginal works: Not that they didn't need me, 'cause they did, but I don't have a degree in education, am not certified to teach, yadda yadda yadda... but that's how I got my current "half job" (three days a week at my son's school because they cannot afford to have me more days since they cannot hire a full time person) -- I kind of offered and they said OK (although the offer from them came first, but some other people I talked to had probably mentioned my desire to help) and I started. I love it, obviously, but I am "nothing" -- I have to follow the directions given by the principal and although I've been learning fast and I think I do a great job, and I have a certain autonomy, I cannot really call the shots (like, decide that my own son, whom I pay to teach -- i.e. I still pay his tuition, which takes about 1/5 of what I make anyway -- can move up to the 2nd grad math and phonics book -- after all, last year in January, in the middle of Kindergarten, he started doing the 1st grade book -- not the principal's decision, s/he claims). And thus frustration. Tiredness because I'm paid a measly hourly wage to be there from 8-3, but then I stay until 5 because I have to prepare the materials, clean the classroom, etc, etc. and then I come home and have to try to do things around the house and work on the online gig.

The online gig was over last night, except for the final project grading. I was failing for some three weeks which totally freaked me out. It looks like I'll make it. And it got easier in the end, but for one main reason: half of the students dropped, so grading became manageable. What a profit these guys make if the rates of withdrawals and drop-outs is this high in most classes! Anyway. I hated it, but it was not that bad, seriously. Working at home IS NOT FOR ME. Because it's totally completely absolutely overwhelming. When teaching we bring a lot of work home to do, OK, ALL the work, but we generally don't have 48h turn-around deadlines for grading or 7 days for bigger projects. Of course we have to try and bring the graded stuff by the next class (which might as well be 48h away), but at least these are generally assignments that you designed and you know the usefulness and the purpose. Not some class that you just can't change even a dot! So, yeah...

So, worries abound. I don't know when I get to teach again online since I'll be in a roster awaiting future placements for 9 week-long (hellish) classes. At the end of May I'm going to be out of the school job. How are we going to pay the mortgage in the summer?

Delirious thoughts abound too... such as getting work to teach world lit at a prep school or academy that has K-12 and where my kids can get to go to school too!! But dream jobs like that are not just out there. There are no jobs out there for me, within a 30 mile radius of my zip-code, says the chronicle of higher education. And I checked the K-12 box and the non-profit, museum, what have you box but they may not advertise with the chronicle anyway. There may be some things... I'll look diligently, I promise.

Oh, and I haven't mentioned one small detail (hahaha... I'm just being sarcastic, ironic, cinical): the fact that I'm deathly afraid of getting in touch with strangers. Writing an email or letter, not so bad, but quite ennerving and heart-stopping, but, calling someone I don't know? Nearly impossible. I just can't. [edited to add: so -- you know now how hard it will be for me to go look for a job in these crazy terms].
I'm a weird type of shy who's not really shy but who is... around strangers. I'm really outgoing and friendly and talkative and ... a blabbermouth, really, but that's just after I know people. And even then.... I've changed a lot and I've learned to give people space. And not just talk about me. That's why I've developed these crying habits (not really, but still), and why I am so dependent on blogging. It's my lifeline. Any little comment just makes my day. So... there you go. If you braved it to this point. Thank you. I will never know how to thank you enough. Because there aren't words. Just tears of gratitude. Really. Because there are some folks out there. Who understand. Who care, who just listen. Because I have this opportunity of merely writing here. Thanks.

**I'll explain to those of you who don't know what this was all about and or are curious: It's a blog by a woman with a newly minted Ph.D. in history who had a young son (around 12 months old), was married to a lawyer, lived in Manhattan, and who was an adjunct at one of the local universities for a year -- 2003-2004. She blogged during that year, recounting her experiences as an "invisible adjunct" -- e.g. every week she had to explain who she was to one of the dept.'s secretaries so they could open the room where she held office hours, nobody knew who she was or what she was doing there. For a whole year. She decided to quit, both adjuncting and bloggin, at the end of that year. And it was only when she quit (July/August 04) that I first heard about her... And I started my own blog in November 04, and the rest (hahahaha) is history ;-)