Wednesday, September 29, 2010

He's Here

For a little more than three days, but I'll gladly take what I get. Remember, the rule is that I see him every two years from two days to two weeks.

It's pretty amazing to see the changes that two years can do to the "little brother" I used to fight play with. After all, he's in his mid-thirties now, no longer a "boy." It's incredible to think that he's the person on earth that probably has the closest DNA to mine (well, except for my sons, I guess -- I'm no biologist, those of you out there who know more than I do, please correct me if I'm wrong), but we couldn't be more different.

If we weren't siblings, we probably wouldn't get along at all. And that's sad. I wish we were more alike. We do have a good relationship, but we're not as close as I wish we could be. Family relations are tough. We choose friends and spouses, but don't get to choose family members (or in-laws, for that matter -- I totally lucked out on that department, picking a spouse with a great family, not that I sometimes don't have my, hmmm... slight reservations about some of them -- never you, my blogging SIL, rest assured). ;-)

In any case, I'm glad. For the sake of my sons I wish we could see him (and his wife, who is not here) more often. The last time we saw him Linton was only four and I think he barely remember spending time with his only maternal uncle then.

OK, gotta go now, it's getting late.

P.S. We found a house today that we liked A LOT. We were just driving aimlessly and decided to go to a completely enclosed street (between two cul-de-sacs -- I love how Linton says this word so nicely, he likes it) in one of the developments we'd been looking into buying before our search was interrupted by the "new development." And then we saw it. It has all the features we wanted -- garage, finished walkout basement. Nice lot. It even has trees in one side (no other houses in the development have trees yet). Why, oh why did we have to see it? It makes me want to the offer for K (and I) to go wrong so we can stay here and buy it. It's tough. OK.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Testing, Assessing, Evaluating

My students, that is...

I have already given the first quiz for each class and the first test to one of my classes. Right now, I'm working on elaborating the test for my second (intermediate level) class.

I'm enjoying preparing the tests although I did freak out just a tiny bit when I saw that one of my beginner students failed pretty spectacular in her first test (most students did great). What do I do? I mean, language teaching is pretty straightforward, you either learn or you don't. Tough, right? Any thoughts on this are appreciated. I'm planning to have the student come to my office hours and go over the materials. I want to make sure she's getting something out of our classes.

Anyway, I've always enjoyed elaborating paper topics. Ah! I was always so creative with those! My papers were nearly impossible for the students to plagiarize because I made the topics very specific and always comparative in nature.* It was fun to come up with paper topics! I also had quizzes, but I think this is the first time since my teaching years in Brazil when I have to create actual tests. I am using the templates provided by the book publisher, but today I created several review questions from scratch. It's funny that I'm totally thinking of the test as one more learning tool for the students. I have even included several "teaching moments" within it.

I am enjoying the grading too, since there's not so much of it (nothing, compared to the two semesters that I had to grade SIX HUNDRED papers -- 6 short journal and 4 longer autobiographical papers per students X 60 -- I got "incompletes" both times in the classes I was taking). It's interesting to see that they're really (for the most part) learning! What I'm doing is useful!

Teaching is fun and rewarding, that's for sure. And this kind of "real" teaching is a joy, compared to the utter awfulness (weak words) that was my experience being a "facilitator" for the biggest for-profit distance learning "provider" in the country. That is not real teaching, and I wonder if it's really any worthy kind of education.

I digress, tough. I hope that the results of these evaluations can prove that I'm doing my part and helping the students to learn! But now, I have to go to bed... ;-)

P.S. My parents are back. I went to pick them up in Maryland today. My uncle is improving lots and that's great! More later.

*After all, that's part of the name of my discipline, for those who don't already know, I try to be slightly fuzzy about that too here in the blog.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Bit of a Defensive Pessimist

I love to listen to NPR (although I do it only while driving, hardly ever at home, for some weird reason) and Fresh Air is one of my favorite programs. Terry Gross's book All I Did Was Ask: Conversations with Writers, Actors, Musicians, and Artists has in my "to-read" list since it was published.

I can't really afford to buy books and although this website is a little "nothing," I've joined Amazon's affiliate program. Now when I write about books, as I often do, I can have my links help me out if anyone ever buys the book. I know Kate bought at least one book after I reviewed it -- too bad I wasn't an affiliate back then! //end tangent

Today I listened to half of Terry Gross's interview with David Rakoff, who recently published Half Empty. As usual, I learned a lot about him in the interview and Terry asked lots of good questions. The most fascinating discussion for me took place when Rakoff explained that he is a "defensive pessimist." When he explained what that was (and I remember clearly that I was entering the highway right at that moment), I realized that this is what I do -- I imagine worst case scenarios to help control my anxiety and it actually works! And it even has a name, this interesting (if annoying to other people) strategy.

Rakoff's take on life, epitomized by the title of his book, is related to the fact that he's currently experiencing his second bout of cancer (the first was when he was 22 and the radiation that treated his lymphoma actually caused the sarcoma that he has now -- crazy, huh?). The interview is cool, you should check it out.

Now... I don't think my "defensive pessimist" side shows much in the blog, does it? It's a little harder for those around me, though.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hmmm... // 75% Success Rate

The decision is still very much up in the air.

The phone conversation today was disappointing. The salary is fairly low. Pretty standard, but low. Not too much more than what K gets here. And summer salary is not a certainty (here K is getting it for three years). The expectations there, however, are sky high, whereas here, they're pretty down to earth & tenure is all but certain.

We were very surprised that three years ago, when K's friend P had a FANTASTIC job search season (with five job offers, including Duke, UC Boulder & NC) the same place K's getting a job offer from now offered P only 1K less than it's offering K now. I guess the annoying explanation that everyone is giving for everything nowadays ("It's the economy, stupid!") may be the culprit, but still... no wonder their original search fell through earlier this year! And it might just be falling through again.

And with this kind of offer, we're definitely not going if I don't have a job with some security. I think it could be an adjunct position only if they could assure me that they wouldn't dump me in the next semester -- because here I can foresee that I have a chance to be employed long-term. Without two incomes (however small for me) we wouldn't be able to make it there because the cost of living is significantly higher (e.g. the boys' school will be over 30% pricier and I'm sure rent there won't be what we're paying here).

So, yeah... the jury's still out on this one. Let's keep the roller coaster going for a while longer, shall we? Enjoy the ride!

~ ~~~ ~ ~~~ ~ ~~~
Meanwhile, K is positively gloating over his job search success. 75% success rate!
4 interviews, 3 offers. It doesn't get any better than that. And he didn't care for the Ivy-league place anyway ;-). Really. They even gave him trouble when reimbursing his expenses (they claimed he had traveled to another interview after that one when that was NOT the case and wanted to reimburse only half of his cost).

So, yeah. Thank you so much for all your encouraging comments. And I want to change the subject very quickly over here, it doesn't feel so good to keep talking about this subject. And, BTW, I don't think I'm dumping the semi-anonymity any time soon because it's important to K that he remains "untraceable" through my blog. It's just fair, right? I talk too much about him as it is.

Monday, September 20, 2010


The department unanimously decided to offer K the job. They're working on the details (he has a phone conversation scheduled for tomorrow) before they put it in writing.

I have a feeling K is not going to refuse this offer & I'm already thinking about moving (I'm excited about it, actually), but, we could change our minds, so, let's see.

I don't feel so torn anymore. And, you know, the whole thing is NOT about a "right" and a "wrong" decision (there's no right or wrong, I think), it's just about what would be best for him and for our family.

I'll keep you posted.

And the hard part will be telling folks at the university here & dealing with that. But, as the saying goes, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

LOVE Cats + Like IKEA = Perfect Ad!

My friend Zee linked to this lovely new ad for IKEA in the U.K. and I just had to blog it.

Here's the ad:
And here's the making off:

Thanks, Zee, I love it!

Friday, September 17, 2010

(Semi Academic) Blogging, Facebook, and Thinking About Changes

In a couple of months I'll be blogging for six long years. I never intended to get famous or to make money (though I have made a little bit, under 1K until now & I'm thankful for whatever I get) although I hoped to be a tiny bit more well-known in the "blogosphere" or blogland (as I sometimes like to call it). And I never anticipated how addictive (hopefully in a good way) and how central to my life blogging would become.

Blogging has changed my life* in many ways. The most significant one was that it has given me a sense of community and allowed me to make many wonderful friends (and I can say with the certainty of one who has experienced many "blogger meet ups" [12 posts in that category] that these friendships are very real and "translate" wonderfully well to face-to-face interactions).

Most importantly, though, blogging has allowed me to express myself -- even if most of the time it feels as if I'm talking only to myself, it's still useful (that's why I've written on journals for over 25 years now and I continue to do so). It began as a profound need of an expatriate mother (of a toddler and infant) who had just moved to a new city to connect to other people, then quickly morphed into the desperate mother-graduate student trying to finish a dissertation and get the Ph.D. and looking for other grad. student mothers. I found them all right and it was amazing to read about their struggles.

Anyway... blogging became something central to my life.

Then came other social media. Orkut, first -- because I'm Brazilian and for years before facebook was the rage (well, I think MySpace was already big then) most Brazilians embraced orkut (now owned by Google) and I was able to reconnect to long lost friends from 30 years ago (25 years at the time! ;-). I'm still there, but I hardly ever check anything or anybody. Then came facebook. I joined and the strangest thing happened. First, I connected to family and friends -- including people from graduate school, and I also got connected with all of my closest blogging friends (if I'm not fb friends with you yet and you'd like to be, just send my an email, I'll give you my "real name" :-D).

That was strange. Two parts of my life that hardly ever touched now were there all together -- the friends from Brazil, from church, from the university and... "from the internets." And what happened since I joined facebook is that I've always felt WAY more comfortable blogging than posting updates there. (I blogged about this a few times).

Now, I was just reading a recent post by Laura (Apt. 11D) in which she commented on her disappointment with the New Yorker's profile of facebook's founder. In the end of her post, she writes:
In a side note, I have to marvel at the power of Facebook. Facebook is now my biggest referral. More people show up here via a link on Facebook than show up from a link from a blogger. Those links bring in new readers. It has changed the way I blog. I now think about how I can package up an idea, so it's appealing on a Facebook page.

Well, your comment about Facebook bringing in traffic/new readers to your blog made me conclude that my already tiny blog is hopeless because I refuse to acknowledge its existence in fb.

Mostly because I have a bunch (maybe 10-15) graduate school friends I'm in touch with in there. Even my advisor is my fb friend. And I've blogged extensively about graduate school.** I wonder if anyone would go and read the archives, though (I do that, I've read part of yours e.g.). So... yeah, I'd rather continue my semi-anonymous blogging for a while longer while I sort out this semi-anonymity thing.

I'm thinking that if we move to [GA] I may decide to disclose my location fully & allow readers to find out my real name more easily if they so desire. Then, maybe I will lose my inhibitions about talking about the blog in facebook. OK, I'll stop here, there's more I want to say about this, so I'll probably should go write a blog post.

The blog post is already here. I'm not promising anything, but I have this feeling that I want to "integrate" my life more from now on. Part of a new beginning, if you will. I have no plans to edit this blog's archives, what I wrote is what I've lived and I stand by it. I think I will feel better and more "whole" once I can openly "own" my blog in a forum like facebook. Not having been published in Mama PhD gave me a chance to remain semi-anonymous for a couple more years, but I think the time will come when I will feel confident enough not to think that this blog can pose any threats to my "academic career" -- if there ever is one ;-). And I can't wait to "take the final plunge."

Oh, and last, but not least? Facebook, Twitter, and other social media seem to be so big that people are already talking about them totally replacing blogging. Too bad. I still feel that blogging is a very effective medium that allows serious reflection in addition to superficial musings. Only the latter can be done in the more popular social media. What to do you think? I hope that blogging doesn't go away anytime soon and, like Laura said, I hope to be able to use Facebook & Twitter to my blog's advantage.

* I can't believe I wrote the "How Blogging Changed My Life" post only two years into blogging, wow.

** Long time readers will know that I've shared lots of my struggles with my advisor, committee members and my doubts about academia in the blog. My unpublished essay (which I had submitted for the anthology Mama, PhD), in particular, deals with sensitive topics that have to do with my department.

The First Pay Check

It feels great to have received my first paycheck today. I was going to put the laptop away when I remembered to check our bank account and see it. This is my first reasonably decent paycheck since I had to stop being a graduate student instructor when we moved from MA to PA six years ago. It's more than what I made as a grad. student and that's good too.

Yesterday I had a full day and I was thinking that working (outside the house) feels good. I miss the boys a lot, particularly on Tuesdays & Thurdays when I teach from 5-6:15 pm. For six years I spent most days with Linton close by and Kelvin was in school for only one year without me (the next year I worked at the school three days a week). I love it that I was able to be with them for so many years, but I'm thrilled to be back at work too.

The transition is not being so easy on Linton, though. After all, six years at home and being able to play a whole lot (even with the cyber-schooling last year) make for a tough transition to being in school for so many hours a day. The many changes are taking his toll on my "baby" and this week was hard for him. I'll try to come back and blog about that later. Now I have to go and pick them up at school (we have early pick up on Fridays).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


The trip went well, particularly at the end of the day yesterday (Tuesday) when we talked with an awesome and helpful professor whose research is mostly about Brazil (he was meeting with me, but told K to come too, which was great because he had specific advice for him).

We're torn, though, really torn. I won't be able to go into lots of details without revealing way too much about either here or there, so I won't blog this whole thing as much as I wish I could. It's hard to feel torn -- we like it here and we like it there and we have to make the hardest decision of our lives.

Sometimes I feel that I didn't want work for me to be the deal-breaker because so much is at stake for K. We haven't decided on that yet.

We're almost certain that an offer is coming, though. They went well beyond any expectations and out of their way (incredibly so) to make K feel that they want him there. So... yeah.

The whole thing kind of feels like a dream right now. I just hope it doesn't turn into a nightmare (moving again DOES sound like one :-( and I think they only pay 4K for moving, not very good).

P.S. Thanks to blogging & bloggy friends, I didn't spend all day Monday doing nothing & by myself. Thanks for letting me stay at your office, Scriv & for joining me to commiserate about academia. "We are all in this together."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Leaving for a Couple of Days

For the second interview (for K -- he's got to meet the people he didn't see back in July). My dad's here to be with the boys. I'm not that nervous. People in my own discipline don't want to see me, so I guess they're not interested in me. I will see only two dept. chairs, one in an area that is not even related to what I do, only tangentially connected to one of the writers I wrote about in my dissertation. Kind of strange.

Work for me there is kind of a deal-breaker for us. Even though I'm only an adjunct here, we feel there may a future for me because my language has only been taught offered for 2 years and now it's officially "on the books" (course catalog). If K gets an offer, I'll go to my current dept. chair and will ask her if she thinks my possibilities are real here or not (of eventually becoming a lecturer or something).

OK, gotta go pack. I'm not that excited about this trip. We'll see how it goes. Sigh. We really like it here and we're generally happy with the work, but for K working there would be more advantageous (even if tenure is easier here).

Thursday, September 09, 2010

And Then... He Prayed

When I wrote that post earlier today, I had no idea that I would be thinking much more about the subject as the day went on. (and thankfully it seems that the man is calling off the Koran burning. wow. Who does he think he is? with all his "bargaining power." Blah.)

Today I worked for over three hours in the shared part-timers' office and I had a chance to talk some more with one of my colleagues. I found out that he is also from Iraq, but unlike the woman colleague, he has only been in the United States for two years. When he said that I was speechless for a few moments, pretty startled and sad too... That means that he lived through the invasion, not only that, but his hometown happens to be Basra -- the place where much of the trouble was in the later phase of the war.

He has two sons, one is only 2 (the other is five), which means he must have had a newborn when they came or maybe the son was born here shortly after, I don't know. Before I found out more details about his life we had actually been talking about how to keep our children speaking our mother language. His parents are in Syria right now (they all fled at the same time) and he is trying to bring them to the U.S. I didn't know what to say, really, or what to ask, although I do want to know more about his experience.

We were both working on our computers when he stopped, took his shoes off, found the correct direction and prayed. I was moved, and I hoped that I wasn't bothering him. Very quietly, I began to email a link to the previous post to my dear friend, telling her about the man I had just talked to -- who happens to have the same name as her eldest son. She recently wrote in facebook that she enjoyed the moments of prayer during Ramadan and I thought that she would like to know that my colleague was there praying too. Synchronicity, that's what I felt about the events of this day.

After the prayer, he went away quietly. I didn't say anything either. I just thought that he didn't know it, but it had been moment full of meaning for me. Maybe later I'll share here another story about the first time I saw a group of muslims praying. Today, I'll let his prayer stand.

And today another group of people celebrated the New Year. If only there could not be so much religious intolerance in the world!

They Are American Too...

This morning when driving the boys to school I was listening to the news on NPR and I was just thinking -- why, oh why, do they have to publicize so much this one guy's decision to burn the Koran? When I got home and checked my blogroll I saw that Laura (Apt. 11D) has been thinking on the same lines and forcefully wrote about it in latests post, aptly titled The Media is Feeding the Flames of the Koran Burner. I've also been thinking a lot about the issues surrounding the Mosque in NYC.

I think my first close contact with the Muslim faith came in 8th grade (in Brazil), when this bright and young new student came to join our class. She was two years younger than us and what they'd call here in the U.S. a "gifted student." She sat right next to me and we became good friends in that year and the next two years she remained our classmate. During Ramadan she would not participate in the physical education activities because she was fasting. I thought that was very interesting and asked her more about it. In the middle of 11th grade she decided to go to Lebanon to learn the language and live with her grandmother (her dad was Lebanese, her mom Brazilian) and she ended up staying for a year, so she graduated two years later than our class, after she came back.

I'd last seen her back in 1997, at a mutual friend's wedding, but a few weeks ago she found me on facebook! I was elated to get back in touch with her. She married a Palestinian-Brazilian and has two boys, just like I do (only younger). She has been posting on fb about how she loves Ramadan and I am just so glad that she's back in my life.

It was also on facebook that I first saw this recent and powerful video, and I wanted to share it with you today.

The first thing I thought when I saw it was that it seems unfair to me that people who were born here and, in some cases have been Americans for generations, are discriminated against. (I kn0w that this happens with Asian Americans a lot too, people just assume, because they look different, that they are immigrants. Whereas I -- who am an actual immigrant -- am rarely asked upfront where I come from because I blend in well).

Right now I'm sharing an office with three Arabic instructors. One of them is a woman who left Iraq 11 years ago. I want to take some time to ask them about their heritage and whether they've suffered discrimination. I imagine it must have been tough for them after 9/11/02, if they were already in the country (she was). It was hard even for me, since I was on a student visa (until 2008, actually!) and it became harder to renew the visa, etc.

It is very sad that a group of people have to be singled out like that. I don't even know what to say. Except that as an immigrant minority, these things are always unsettling for me.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

First Day of 1st and 3rd Grade (two weeks ago)

So, today everyone was writing on facebook about how their kid(s)' first day of school went, etc... I'm taking this as my cue to belatedly post the pictures of my boys' first day and Linton's first day of school ever (8/18/10).

Of course, as good Brazilians, we were late for the first day of school. Yeah... I felt sorry for the boys, :-( but not great harm was done (they weren't really stressed out or anything. Linton had visited his class two days before, so it was OK).

There is an explanation: we had spent all of the previous day at a water park, saying good-bye to the summer vacation and we were obviously exhausted the next morning.

As a result, the only photos I was able to take of my "baby's" first day of school & his brother's third year were these:
At the end of the day, after missing them, I was able take a few more, relieved that they'd given my hungriest boy a snack (I was worried he was going to be hungry):
He was so happy and goofy! He'd certainly had a great day.

I'm thrilled that the boys have a healthy (vegetarian!) hot lunch at their school every day (they did take a lunch on the first 4 days). Life is much less stressful when I don't have to worry about preparing lunch for everybody (just for K & I now).

Oh, and today was the event that started my "teaching career" with a bang. It went really well! I'll try to talk about the film we saw later.

P.S. My internet is really slow (& it was like that in PA too). I wish I had fiber optics (though it's from evil Verizon, whom I'd vowed never to work with again & now they're our wireless providers). I love to write posts with photos & I don't blog more because of how long it takes to upload the pics. :-(

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

I'm Lovin' It!

I'm still doing some hard thinking about the whole adjuncting thing, but meanwhile, after teaching three classes, I can say that I'm really enjoying teaching language.

It takes a lot of preparation time and I know a lot of the students won't learn as much as they could (learning a language is way more the responsibility of the student than the teacher, I know that from experience), but it's fun!

And it's easy! I don't feel insecure at all about my grasp on the subject, after all, besides teaching my mother language, I have a BA and a teaching licensure in it.

One of the hardest things for me when I was a graduate student instructor was that I often felt like an impostor -- that I was barely ahead of the students in a lot of the material. I did teach several books I analyzed in my dissertation and I was wholly prepared to teach those. However, many others were not really my choice, they were books often taught in those classes (standards that I felt I had to include).

I always longed to teach a class wholly designed by me (and I still do), but I often thought of language teaching as something I wouldn't really enjoy. Good thing I was WRONG! I won't bore you to death with details now, but I expect I'll be blogging about some of my experiences teaching. And I do enjoy being back to work (and having the boys in a school they love), but that's the subject of another post.