Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Poll time!

Native English speakers: Is this sentence grammatically possible for you?

I like barbecue.

If so, what kind of food does "barbecue" refer to? What do you think of? Brazilian barbecue? Korean barbecue? Tennessee barbecue (Jamie?). 

Yes, we agree that barbecue is a noun to refer to a party, such as "I'm having a barbecue at my house tomorrow." It can also be a noun for the actual grill, like "I bought a new barbecue for my husband for his birthday."

There is also the verb "to barbecue," like, "I barbecued steak for dinner". The verb lends itself to the participle, like in  "I like barbecued ribs."

But can you use barbecue as a uncountable noun that is synonymous with food? 
Don't look in dictionaries, please. Just tell me if the sentence "I like barbecue" sounds good to you or sounds strange to you. Is it something you would say?

If you've been living in another country for a while and listening to non-native speakers speak English all day, be careful. Some things become acceptable after hearing them a million times. So try to remember when you first moved to the country and if a sentence like "I like barbecue" or "I had barbecue for dinner" sounded strange to you. 

I have to say that it's really strange for me to use "barbecue" like this. But I think it's becoming acceptable in English because so many other languages have an uncountable noun for "barbecue", and when the cultures come into the US, their speakers bring the word with them. (So that's why you can find "Korean barbecue" in the US.) 
However, I grew up on the west coast. The exactly two instances that I've heard native speakers use "barbecue" like this were both referring to southern states. Is it a regional thing?

Discuss!  (And I hope this didn't make you too hungry.)  :)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Oh, UFC, How do I Hate Thee? Let me Count the Ways

We have a channel.
It is called COMBAT.
It is the bane of my existence.

The COMBAT Channel plays UFC fights and UFC-related reality shows 24/7. If you don't know what UFC is, you're lucky. But if you want to know, it stands for ULTIMATE FIGHTING CHAMPIONSHIP.  I use caps lock when appropriate for you to imagine some wrestling match announcer speaking in a dramatic yelling/growling voice. (ULLLTIMATE! THREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE FIVE-MINUTE ROUNDS!)

Alexandre has recently discovered The COMBAT Channel. (COMBAT!) He thinks it's AWESOOOMMEEE. And he watches it all. the. time. The oaf-like men with permanently deformed faces bashing each other's brains in. The blood all over the ring. The reality show with the young oaf-like boys competing to be the champion oaf.  And their nicknames, like "RAMPAGE" and "THE DESTROYER". And the stupid girls in bikinis carrying around signs. And the arrogance.  And the stereotypes of what being a "Real Man" means. Oh, and the shameless marketing. I mean, what self-respecting man wears shorts with the word "TAPOUT" written on his ass and puts himself into homo-erotic poses with other steroid-filled dumbasses in the name of manliness??

I mean, it's really torture. But I have to say that the worst part about it is the interviews with the fighters. Before most of the fights, the channel shows interviews with the fighters that always include scenes of them practicing and working out; sound bytes from their trainers saying things like "He's improved! He's on fire! This here fight's gonna be the best fight in the history of fights!" and the fighter talking about how he's doing it for his family ("it", of course, being bashing some other guy's brains in).

I read some study once about how the more peaceful a man's job is, the more he gets into testosterone-heavy pastimes. So I mean, Alexandre makes sick people healthy all day. I'm not sure what gets more peaceful than that... except maybe like, a monk, and I don't think monks watch UFC.   So I try to be patient ("Try" being the operative word).

Today, my friend Melissa and her husband invited us over for lunch. Someone-- can't remember which one of them-- mentioned UFC.  And then they all started going on about how GREAT it is! Even Melissa! And then they put the channel on and were raving about the awesome fighters.

So now I'm just convinced that they all like it because they can't understand the type of English spoken on the COMBAT Channel, and the subtitles are totally watered down and neutralized. So like during his interview, the fighter speaks in the third person and says something like, "That little bitch is in RAMPAGE's Kingdom now! His ass is mine!" And the subtitles say "Vamos fazer uma boa luta!".  And then I sigh and groan a lot.

And Alexandre is convinced that I'm the odd man out, just blind to the obvious awesome-ness of UFC. "Even Melissa likes it!", he has been insisting today.

Please. Tell me: Where is the awesome-ness in this? (Click at your own risk!)
I'm suspicious (and slightly hopeful) that Alexandre's new UFC hobby is just his temporary, mastermind ploy to make me appreciate soccer more. Because I'd take soccer over UFC any day.

Help me....!

Saturday, March 20, 2010


So I recently discovered this blog and this blog. They're by the same author. The message of both blogs is just improving your life in general, being more productive, making your days more meaningful, ridding your life of things that suck up too much energy. (I call them "Self-Actualization" blogs, tips for people who have gotten everything else on Maslow's hierarchy sorted out and can obsess about the little things. :)  You've gotta take them with a grain of salt: sometimes it feels like the guy throws ideas out there just for the sake of having something new to try to control (Stop using Google! Try to live with only 50 material things!).  But there are a lot of good ideas if you're willing to hunt through the sites. (On the Zen Habits site, there's a helpful "Start Here" section with some of his more quality links.)

Anyway, I was already trying to pick up on some of the tips from these sites when I got the bad news that my American job is dead for the time being. I have to admit (now that I've calmed down a bit) that it IS going to be nice to be working less and be a little less stressed. I feel like I can finally get ahead of the game instead of just reacting to everything work-wise. (For example, now I have time to plan everything for my private classes at the beginning of the week instead of throwing stuff together 30 minutes before the class starts.) I also have a ton of ideas to improve my private classes, but I just haven't had time to make them happen. (Like... I have a stack of papers-- chapter reviews, activities, etc-- that I've written by hand but haven't had time to type up to actually use with my students.)

So this is what I've been doing this week, in accordance with the Self-Actualization blogs:

*Planning better for my classes
*Making more activities
*Trying to spend less time online (the success of which has been questionable)
*Reading more and watching less TV (or, in my case, fewer downloaded TV shows)
*Convincing students to combine their private classes with other students using the same book at the same level. This allows me to free up time for other students while making more money per hour. It also gives them a new conversation partner (besides me).
*Cooking healthier things (by the way, I know I've let the cooking blog slide. I'll get back to it!)
*Cleaning out the closets of forgetting while Alexandre's at work ;)

*Another component has been exercising more/better. Six months ago, I started at the gym. (It's actually Curves, the American chain! A little piece of America in Brazil, with the puffy styrofoam letters and cheesy artwork and everything.) It's nice, but... it's low impact. VERY low impact. I lost weight the first month, and then plateaued. It's very limiting because it's only 30 minutes a day and it's closed on weekends (what gym closes on the weekends!?). Six months is BY FAR the longest I've ever stuck with any kind of exercise routine ever. But now that I'm going to be lower on funds, this is an easy thing to drop. 

My dear sister gave me a CardioPilates DVD while I was home visiting, and it's EXCELLENT... once you can get past the cheesy music and obvious green screen background. :) In the closet of forgetting, I found an exercise mat that Alexandre apparently "borrowed" from the university gym, so I've been using the DVD for about a week.
It is SO difficult! Let's just say that I'm very, very relieved that no one can see me attempting to do the impossible pilates moves, or hear me cursing at the TV when the lady says things like, "That's it, you've got it!" and I yell back at her, "What the hell?! I haven't F*&%ing 'got it'!" But every day it gets a little easier, and it actually feels like a real workout, unlike the bopping around that I do at the gym.
(Man, my English was really British in that paragraph.)

So yes. I'm trying to be optimistic and productive in light of (possibly temporarily) losing my job. I have my two-year Brasiliversary coming up, and I'd like to be as self-actualized as possible.   :)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Work Sucks

Well, today was really a crap day in my working world.

First, I woke up to an email from my American boss saying that my department is "on hold for now." I'll spare you the details: the point is, half of my monthly income is now gone, and I don't know for how long.

Then, my first afternoon student didn't show up. She's the only one I have left without a contract, because she's a flight attendant. I mentioned the idea to her recently of paying for a set number of hours each month instead of just paying per class, but she didn't go for it (surprise). She's usually pretty reliable, so I don't know if I should enforce this rule (ex: pay for 6 hours a month that don't roll over), and risk losing her as a student, or just put up with her crap.

My next student showed up, and that class was good. So +1 point.

Next, I got an email from a lady who I have been negotiating with over email for the last couple of weeks. Back story: She wanted me to translate a 20-page scientific article (about DNA of parasites that spread Chagas Disease). I said it would be 1,200 reais, because I charge about the standard rate for the region, which is 25 cents per word. (It's actually a little more, but I charge a bit less because I'm not a licensed translator or anything.) She hummed and hawed and tried to talk me down, but I wouldn't go lower than 1,000 (and I wouldn't translate the keys to the images or the tables). So then she asked why I charged so much less for correcting a text (which was how she had found out about me-- I corrected her colleague's text for a lot cheaper). I explained that correction is much faster than translation, and when I do a translation, I'm 100% sure of what you're trying to say (there's always a chance that I'll misinterpret a mistake when I'm doing a correction). Anyway she said that she'd translate it herself and then have me correct it.

Well today, a week later (an awfully fast time for a full-time lab employee untrained in translation to translate a 20-page text), she sent me the article in English, asking how much I'd charge to correct it. She had very obviously just put the thing into an internet translator. (This is my industry; I know how to recognize these kinds of things.) So I wrote her back, and, since I couldn't blatantly accuse her of putting it into a translator because I'd have no way to prove it, I wrote a polite email (with Alexandre's help) telling her that the text had too many errors for me to try to translate it, and that I couldn't guarantee that, even with my corrections, it would be published.

So that sucked, because I'm worried that she's going to say bad things about me around her lab (I've build up quite a cliente there). But Alexandre made a good point: People will take her less seriously if she says "she wouldn't do my correction!" than if she says "she did my correction, and it still didn't get published!". I have a really great track record with my corrections and translations getting published, so I don't want to mess it up.

Anyway, after that, my last class (2 students) didn't show up. I called them and they had apparently talked and neither could come and both thought the other would call. So at least they're paying, but it's annoying to prepare for a class and sit there waiting for them to have them not show up.

Yeah, kind of a sucky day in the land of teaching and translation! Tomorrow is a local holiday, so everything's closed (surprise). Alexandre's gonna make dinner tonight and we're gonna watch downloaded episodes of Community and Parks and Recreation.

Let's hope that next week is a bit better! :oP

Benefits of Small-Town Life (i.e., Optimism)

Some benefits of living in this small town:

1. The lady who has the little stand to refill ink cartridges always remembers my name.

2. The guy who sells vegetables on the corner says, "No, just pay me tomorrow!" if I suddenly decide I want broccoli, too, and I didn't bring enough cash.

3. Almost all of the restaurants are mom-and-pop shops.

4. If you frequent a given mom-and-pop restaurant (like we do), you get really great service.

5. I can walk home by myself from work at night without any problems.

6. I can walk to work. And the gym. And the grocery store. And the mall. And the hospital. Plus, Alexandre can walk to and from work, and walks home for lunch.

7. The vegetables and meat are almost always local. And cheap.

8. The cost of living is practically negligible.

9. I have almost no competition in my job market. 

10. Drive the 10 minutes out of town, and the views are spectacular! Great for bike rides (so says Alexandre, the one with the bike).

11. Life is slow and calm and quiet. :)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Diglossia (or, Why I Can't Find a Decent Portuguese Teacher)

So I am going to explain a linguistic concept to you. It is called Diglossia. If you are someone who has been trying to learn/teach Portuguese, this may clarify some of the problems you've had.

Diglossia refers to a situation when a group of people (usually a country) uses either (a) 2 separate languages or, more commonly, (b) 2 very different versions of the same language.  The people use these 2 versions/languages in a distinct way.  One is considered the common, everyday, conversational version, and the second is considered the formal/official/literary version, used in government, education, and the media.

Of course every country and language has formal and informal features. Notice the difference in English between "You guys coming with?" and "Would you care to join us?". So the idea of diglossia is only a matter of degree. But usually the differences between 2 versions of a language can be called a diglossia when there are distinct grammar changes, or when the 2 versions are not mutually intelligible (that means if you speak only one, you can't understand the other).

The most famous diglossia situation (that every linguist learns about as their first example) is with Arabic. But I'd like to promote the theory that Brazil/Portuguese has Diglossia. (I read up on it on Wikipedia and learned that some (good and forward-thinking) Brazilian linguists are starting to agree.) 

In Portuguese, there are very distinct grammar choices that are marked as being the Formal version and the Informal version. And more importantly, the Formal version isn't just picked up by native speakers of Portuguese. It has to be formally studied in school. (This is not the case in English. If you're an American, of course you had some grammar classes as a kid, but if you did your required reading in your K-12 years, you have enough experience with English to have a notion of how to be formal and informal.)

So Diglossias happen for different reasons. In the case of Arabic, it's a freakin' old language, and it's spoken in a lot of different countries close together. So the result is that, over time, people in the different countries start making their own rules and changing it up a bit. But since they (usually) want to communicate with each other (and even within their own countries), the old version was maintained (a large way to maintain it was because of the religious factor).

So here's my theory about the Portuguese Diglossia in Brazil:
In Brazil, Diglossia happens because the rate of literacy is relatively low, especially when compared to more developed countries. Think about it. When most people in a country know how to read, they agree on how the language "should" be, and it takes longer for the language to change because everyone's learning and using the same version of it. But in the case of Brazil, where literacy is much lower, people aren't learning their native language in school and from the same books. They're learning it from their friends and neighbors. In the absence of known grammar rules, they make up new grammar rules.

The language also is sometimes regularized/simplified in these cases. (Ebonics in the US is KIND OF (up for debate) a Diglossia situation.Think about how Ebonics formed in the United States. In some ways, it's "easier" than standard English. The verb "be" is not conjugated or it just isn't used at all (He be tired). There is no "doesn't". (He don't like that).)

In Portuguese, the Informal version is more simple in some ways. ("Ele liga para você" instead of "Ele te/lhe liga". Only one form of "você!")

The Portuguese Diglossia is most obvious in the cases of pronouns, passives, and subjunctives.
*Pronouns are things like I, you, me, he, him, she, her, etc.
*Passive is like "the house was built" instead of "He built the house."
*Subjunctive is the devil and doesn't really exist in English the way it does in Latin languages.

So okay. You might be getting bored now. The point is, there are 2 versions of Portuguese. Neither one is "wrong." It is a Diglossia situation. Everyone who studies Linguistics at a decent American university knows this.

However, studying linguistics (well, "letras") in a Brazilian university (at least in one of the blah ones around here) means that the only introduction to (what they think is) linguistics that students get is that they finally learn the Formal version of Portuguese really well, and then they go around thinking that they speak Portuguese better than everyone else. Except they speak exactly the same. Because they use both versions. BECAUSE THERE ARE TWO VERSIONS.

The result of my hunt for a Portuguese teacher has been that no one has been able to grasp this concept. They're all very excited to teach me the super Formal version that no one speaks on a daily basis. Then I ask them questions like:

What's the difference between "me ajuda" and "ajude-me"?  (These both mean "Help me".)

And they say:

"Me ajuda" is wrong. "Ajude-me" is right.

And then I say:

But you just said "Me ajuda." Plus, I hear imperatives like that all the time. I even see it in subtitles.

And then they say:

What? No. Well, everyone says it, but it's wrong.

And then I say:

How is it wrong if everyone says it?

And they say:

Oh, well, because Brazilians can't speak Portuguese.

So at least in the case of imperatives, I've since figured out which is considered the Formal version and which is the Informal version. But no teacher is going to work for me if they have these notions like "the vernacular version of our diglossia language is wrong" or "Brazilians can't speak Portuguese."

I really need them to have this distinction so they can correct me correctly. Does that make sense? When I make a mistake in Portuguese, I need them to say one of the following:
(1) That's the informal version. This is a formal situation.
(2) That's the formal version. This is an informal situation.
(3) You made that up from Spanish. It's ungrammatical in Portuguese.
(4) You made that up from English. It's ungrammatical in Portuguese.

(They have to know the difference between "umgrammatical" (no Brazilian would say that and it's a red flag that you're not a native speaker) and "socially incorrect" (saying it like that is just too formal/informal for a given situation).)

So if you're a Portuguese (PSL) teacher, please make this distinction for your poor suffering English-speaking student.  If you're learning English, know that this situation exists and ask them to clarify (if they know).

In the meantime, I'm going to keep looking. One of my students has a friend who lived in England for a few years and now teaches English here around town. She's willing to trade English classes for Portuguese classes, but I'm kind of jaded.  If I try with this new girl, she'll be my 4th Portuguese teacher.

The first one was completely nonsensical (a lot of this "that's wrong but everyone says it" crap).

The second was was actually kind of decent but she quit on me after 3 weeks. :(

The third one insisted on giving me "cultural lessons" (even though I live here and don't need them-- I need written grammar.... it was really because she was too lazy to prepare anything). Her "cultural lesson" was playing DejaVu videos for me on YouTube. Yeah. Those classes stopped real quick. 

I'm wondering if they'll be better teachers if I just pay them instead of trading for classes (that was the situation with the second one, but I'm not sure if it was the money that made her better, or just her experience/education). Do you think that makes a difference?

Should I try again? Do any of you want to be my teacher? :( I have high standards, but I'm a good student, I promise!

I hope you enjoyed my Diglossia lesson. Does this clarify any problems you've had learning Portuguese? I look forward to your comments/stories. :)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I'm the Worst Person Ever.

So you may remember that there is (was) a daycare center next to our apartment building. It closed down a few months ago, and since then, it hasn't been turned into any other kind of business. However, people are there almost every day working on it, doing little things at a time. In most cases, this work is better than having the actual daycare, but on some days, they decide to do really really annoying and inconsiderate things, like cut the grass at 7:00am.

That's what happened yesterday and today. When it woke me up yesterday, I was really irritated, but figured it was the only day. I looked out the window yesterday to see someone cutting the entire area with a freaking weed whacker. Do you know how long that takes? But I tried to just wait it out.

However, when it started up again today, I was not as patient as I was the day before. My first thought was to call the police to report a noise ordinance. Then I remembered that this is Brazil. So then my second thought was to fill a plastic soda bottle with something and throw it next to the worker to scare him a bit. Then I calmed down a bit and decided instead to go down and talk to whoever it was that was being so inconsiderate.

"I'm going down there to tell him to stop," I said matter-of-factly to Alexandre as I yanked off my pajamas and pulled on my jeans.

"That's dumb. Don't do that," he said. "It's a weekday. I don't know what time people are allowed to do these kinds of things on weekdays."

"I really doubt that it's 7:00am!"

I stormed down the 4 flights of stairs of our building and marched over to the daycare. The front door was open, so I went inside. There on the lawn was a tiny old man working away with his weed whacker.

"Excuse me. Sir. Do you know what time it is?" I said, irritated. I was trying to stay calm and polite... for me, that means not yelling. It does not rule out sarcasm.

The old man apparently didn't catch on to the sarcasm, or, what's more likely, I got the intonation wrong. "Well, I'm not sure, exactly," he said. "I can go check for you if you'd like."

 "What? No. It's 7:00am. It's too early to be making so much noise. Why are you cutting the grass so early? And why are you using ...." --I didn't know how to say weed whacker in Portuguese, so I pointed at it and continued--  "...this small machine to cut all of the grass? It takes forever."

The old man looked at me sadly. "I have to start early, minha filha. The sun is not good for me."

"Ok, well, do you see how many people you are bothering?" I wove my hand around the array of apartment buildings surrounding the daycare for dramatic effect.  "There are a lot of doctors in these apartments. We're right next to the hospital. Many of them work nights and only get a couple of hours to sleep. I also work nights. I understand that they sun may be irritating for you. So why not work in the late afternoon?"

"Well, because I leave at 4:00." Not a lot of logic.

"Is that your choice or your boss's? Can I talk to your boss?"

That was apparently not the right thing to say. The old man started to tremble. "Oh my god, you want to talk to my boss! Look, he told me to start at 10:00, but I can't be in the sun at noon! My doctor told me, look, the sun is burning your ears--"

And then the old man started to cry!!!!!

Chalk it up to being as close to my grandparents as I am, but I do not do well when old people cry. Alexandre can attest to the fact that any time old people cry in movies, I tear up with them.

"No, sir, please don't cry-- I'm sure we can come to some kind of compromise--"

"No, no, you're right, young lady. You know, I need to just quit. Leave this job. You're the third person to come over to complain to me. I can't bear to know that I'm bothering so many people. But I just can't work in the sun!" He was crying a lot now, and started going on about Jesus giving him so many trials and tribulations in his 83 years of life but how Jesus suffered for everyone's sins and how he's had so many different jobs in his life and how many times people didn't even pay him correctly but how he needs to be like Jesus and needs to show love for his neighbors too and oh god he's been in the same apartment for 42 years and what if he has to move in with his daughter?


"No, sir, it's okay. There's no need to cry. I don't think you need to quit your job. I'm sure we can find some kind of compromise. Can you at least give me an idea of how long you guys will be making changes here? Another week? Another month?"

But he was past the point of compromise or consolation. "No, I need to stop. I need to leave this work. Or I guess I can just work later in the day and get sunburned." Then more monologue about Jesus. As he talked, I noticed that the few bottom teeth he had left were being held in a straight line by some kind of metal wire.

Jesus. He's just a sad poor little old man trying to earn a living. And I'm the worst person ever for being rude to him and asking him not to do his job.

I tried to backpedal, telling him no, don't worry about it, forget it, just do what you gotta do, sorry if I upset you or offended you, while using a lot of o senhor instead of você, etc.

"No, I'm going to sit here for a while and think, maybe cry a little more. [Yes, he actually said that.] But I won't cut the grass now, okay?"

"No, I mean, you can finish for today at least, if you want.... really, it's okay..." I tried.

"Good bless you, filha. Please forgive me for inconveniencing you. I hope the lord can forgive me, too."  And with that he sat on a bench.


I left. I went back to the apartment. By the time I walked through the front door, I was crying.
Alexandre was alarmed. "What happened? Did he yell at you? Hit you?"
"He's just a poor little old man!" I sobbed. "And I made him cry!"

I saw Alexandre's face twinge with a smile that he was trying to hold back. "You made him cry? Did you yell at him?"

"No! I tried really hard to be polite! I used o senhor and everything! But I asked him not to cut the grass so early and then he started going on about how he's 83 and can't be out in the sun and all this stuff about Jesus!"

Alexandre started laughing. "You are so sweet. I love you."
"Stop! It's not funny! And I'm not sweet! I'm terrible! What if he quits his job?" I went over to look out the window.

"He's still sitting on the bench!" and I started crying some more.

"Look. What can you do to make the situation better? Bake him a cake and take it down to him and make peaces." (Alexandre's wonderful Portuguese English. My Portuguese is the same.)
"I don't know how to bake a cake."
"So go to the bakery and buy him one. Take it to him, ask sorry, tell him you want to be friends, sit down with him and ask him about his life... he'll love that."
"Ok. I will. I don't know about the sitting down and talking about his life part, but I'll go buy him something from the bakery. Do you want a ride to work?"
Alexandre smiled. This had apparently been his plan. "Well, if you insist..."

So I dropped Alexandre off. Then I stopped by the bakery to pick up some little pastries. Then I took them over to the old man. When I got there he was sweeping.

"Hello, So I bought you some bread. I wanted to say sorry for upsetting you."

"Oh no, que é isso filha? It's okay. Thank you very much. I'm going to save this for later."
(I breathed a little sigh of relief that he didn't want to sit down and eat together.)
"But it's very important to make peace. O que manda tudo é paz. I hope God blesses you with double what you've given me. Tchau."

I think what he said means something like "Peace makes the world go 'round."

So, yes. That was my emotional roller-coaster of a morning. My lesson is that I can't apply big city ways of handling things to this small-town way of life.  And I don't have to be right all the time. And that o que manda tudo é paz.  

How do these kinds of things happen to me? Alexandre says I'll be able to laugh about it by tomorrow.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Alexandre's First Race

So Alexandre has gotten into running over the last year or so, and today he ran his first race in a city-wide competition!

If I had my way, I would've been waiting at the end of the line with a sign and a noisemaker shouting for him, but he didn't want me to come with him because he was worried that there wouldn't be other friends and family there (of course there were and of course I was right), and in many situations he has a "drop me off on the corner so my friends don't see me getting a ride" kind of mentality that I have to contend with.

The race was relatively close to home (within walking distance). So we planned to meet outside of the race's congregation area, but when I saw how many friends and family were milling around, waiting for / cheering for their loved ones, I went in to look for him.

Then I found him and (discreetly) held up the "PARABENS!" sign that I had made and took pictures (I win):

He ran the 8-km (about 5-mile) race in 45 minutes! Good for his first race, if I do say so myself.  I certainly couldn't run 8 kilometers, let alone in 45 minutes.  He also got a little medal for finishing, which he was excited about.

After the race we went to walk around a little plaza close by so he could cool down. There were quite a few people getting their morning jogs on, and there was a man selling coconut juice (well, selling coconuts with juice in them, in true Brazilian style). The coconut guy had set up some plastic chairs around his stand for his patrons. There were 3 girls about our age hanging out in the chairs, except they were totally dressed up in fancy sandals, clubbing clothes, and a ton of makeup, gossiping and drinking coconut juice. We walked around the plaza a couple of times and then bought some coconuts and drank the juice in the chairs, and made fun of the girls for having no plurals ("algumas amiga minha") and for getting dressed up to sit in the plaza at 10:30am on a Sunday morning and suck water out of a coconut with a straw.

Now I'm gonna work on a translation, and we're gonna barbecue at home for lunch. And life is calm and it is good.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Post-Vacation Updates

So I went home to Californ-i-a. I saw my people.  I drank tequila.  I rode the Amtrak. I made a scrapbook about my first 2 years in Brazil. I read Cormac McCarthy and cried a lot. I stayed up until 4am talking to more than one friend on more than one night. I put on about 4 pounds in 2 weeks. And good times were had by all.

But things are back in full swing here in my neck of the rainforest. Some blog-worthy updates:

(1) Dear friends Michelle and Mark bought Gatinha a Christmas present: A FroliCat Bolt Laser toy.  It's basically a laser for lazy humans (like us). You set it on the table and then the laser automatically moves around the room for the cat to chase. I tried to make a video of Gatinha playing with it, but it's really hot today and I think she's feeling kind of lazy, too. She just kind of stares at it with her confused stupid face and then loses interest. But during her more active parts of the day, she gets really into it.
Here's a video with other (less lazy) cats playing with it:

If I can get a video of her later, I'll share. :)

(2) You may know that some people say that the new year doesn't really start in Brazil until after Carnaval. This is definitely true in the teaching world. My students were pretty much no-shows from the New Year 'till the end of February. But this week that I've been back, I've gotten a TON of phone calls from new people who want to start classes.

Because I have enough interest to have the luxury of doing so, I'm only accepting private students at specific times that work with the schedule that I want. Friday is the only day that I teach classes before 2:00pm, I don't teach past 5:00pm on Fridays, and I don't work weekends.  But this rule actually really worked out in my favor, because people are willing to buddy up in order to have room for everyone to get classes in between the times that I allot. So now I have quite a few classes with 2 and 3 students! Exciting!

Also, the school where I work has a bunch of people "graduating" this month. They have the option of continuing on at the school in the "post-advanced" classes, but they've finished their contracts and are getting their little certificates.  Out of the 8 people graduating, 6 are leaving the school to do advanced private classes with me at my house. Kind of unethical? Maybe. I don't really care. I don't have anything to lose-- what will the school do? Fire me for "stealing" students that would be leaving the school either way?  But to be fair, I didn't give any of the students the idea: they all approached me about it. (I think 2 of them had the idea and then told the others, actually. They're going to be in 1 group of 4 and 1 group of 2.)

I also wouldn't do it if the school's material wasn't so horrible. But it is. I've already complained quite a few times before. That's one of the many reasons why I quit. Except I didn't really, because...

(3) When I came back from vacation, my boss begged me to stick around for the next semester. A teacher quit while I was gone, and another one changed her availability after our tests this week. Seeing my upper hand, I made the following rules:
1. I will only have one group.
2. It will be a specific, now-advanced class that I've already taught quite a few times and that I really enjoy.
3. I don't have to go to the teacher meetings.

She didn't like the idea of me not going to the meetings. But after some back-and-forth, she accepted it.
These rules limit my interaction with the other teachers to potentially none. With only one group, I don't have to hang out in the teacher room between classes and listen to their asinine banter. By not attending meetings, I can achieve the same goal. With the advanced class, I also don't have to correct any homework assignments. So.... fair. I'd rather not teach it, but I'm trying to do a favor for my boss because she's also kind of my friend.

(4) Going home to the US allowed me to discover all kinds of new American TV shows. I have to say that American TV is really on the up-and-up. Alexandre and I have quite the repertoire of things to watch (not sure if I'm using the word "repertoire" correctly). Our TV not downloaded illegally playlist includes:
The Office
Parks and Recreation
The Big Bang Theory
Modern Family

And my guilty pleasures include:
Criminal Minds (yaaay Stephanie!)
Grey's Anatomy
Brothers and Sisters

Alexandre also really got into Judge Judy the last time we were in the US (which can be very entertaining! Hahahaha). So we watch cases from that on YouTube sometimes.

Based on these lists (and not factoring in Judge Judy), do you guys have any recommendations of things to watch?

(5) One of my top 2 favorite musicians/singers/bands whatever, Joanna Newsom, has a new CD out. Best English lyricist in the last 40 years, hands-down (I second [third?] her only to Bob Dylan and Paul Simon). I entertained myself on my 12-hour plane ride back home to Brazil by printing out the lyrics beforehand and listening to the 2-hour-long CD on my mp3 player. I can't imagine what the people next to me thought I was doing.

You'll probably hate it, but maybe humor me and check it out anyway, all the way through (some nice person put up a youtube video with the song/lyrics):


Have a good weekend!
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