To Kick Off the Christmas Season

ChildrenGoWhereISendThee-Thankful101ComIt’s December first, and Thanksgivikkah is behind us. I didn’t finish writing my novel — not even close — but November was a productive month anyway. Now I am ready to get excited about Christmas.

When I woke up this morning, this song was on my mind. We used to sing it at summer camp when I was a kid, but I think it’s an apropos Christmas song. This version is really fun. As far as I can tell (after not-very-extensive internet research), it was recorded in 1957 and the silliest kid is Tennessee Ernie Ford‘s son, Brion.

I’ve been reminded a lot this year of the fluid nature of life and time. They both seem to slip away from us so smoothly, and still they remain within us as part of the same infinite and interconnected body. It’s a conundrum. Tennessee Ernie suffered liver failure at Dulles Airport shortly after leaving a White House dinner. A few years ago, Brion died of lung cancer in White House, TN. Neither Brion nor Ernie exists in physical form, and yet they’re here making me smile almost 60 years later. If you’re like me, you’ll catch yourself humming “Children, Go Where I Send Thee” hours from now and wonder for a second how it got into your head.

It’s a reminder that we all leave little bits of ourselves behind, whether we are just leaving for work or school, or we’re going away more permanently. It’s a reminder of how traditions help us keep our mooring in the vastness of time, and how they often become more valuable as memories than they were as moments. We should all be mindful of what we are leaving behind.

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas season.

Will It Kill Us to Be Thankful for an Entire Day?

ThanksgivingGreetingLast year, that most American of gigantic box stores (the one with the bouncy smiley face and the unbeatable prices on Chinese goods and processed food) decided that they were going to open their doors on Thanksgiving evening instead of waiting until midnight on Black Friday like more civilized, less greedy retailers do.

This year, worried that consumers would spend all their cash in one place, so many other stores jumped on the early ‘Gimme All Your Money, America’ bandwagon that some newscasters have begun calling Thanksgiving “Brown Thursday”.

Let’s shut that down right away. It’s sickening. And sad. The fourth Thursday in November already has a name and is already a wonderful tradition that is far removed from the massive consumerism that pervades our society today. If we’re going to call it anything else, just this one time, we can call it Thanksgivikkah. Not Brown Thursday.

It’s a big, unattainable dream, but I really, really hope that sales numbers tomorrow are so pathetic that for Thanksgiving 2014 we can get back to what really matters — being grateful for the things we already have and for the people we love and for the time we have to spend with them.

Happy Thanksgiving, Friends. Stay out of the stores. Please.

NaNoWriMo is Here!

A few years ago, one of my Creative Writing students asked me if I was participating in NaNoWriMo. I’d never heard of it. She explained that NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. At midnight each November 1 writers challenge themselves to complete an entire novel of at least 50000 words before the end of the month.

The concept was intriguing, but I just had too many other things going on. This year, I am going to try. Wish me luck. Fifty thousand words divided by 30 days equals 1667 words per day. That’s doable, right? Might have to double up a couple of days … I probably won’t get much done on Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday. :)

Also, today is my birthday. Woot.

Brazilian Bathroom Rules

Going to the bathroom in Brazil, especially if you are a woman, is not for the faint of heart. I know a thing or two about primitive plumbing having spent many of my formative years in a 100 year old farmhouse, but the rules here are constricting and just plain gross. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to them.

At vovozinha’s house, One and I are usually given the big room downstairs with an en suite bathroom, so it’s not so bad. Once we’re out in the world, it’s a different story. Public restrooms, by definition, are usually not impeccable, desirable places in which to spend much time. En masse, the public seems to have a hard time adhering to a standard of cleanliness. For an evolved germophobe like me, this presents a host of shudder-inducing problems.

First, the smell of teeming bacteria assaults my olfactory system. No matter how “clean” the surface might be, the pipes seep the reminders of generations of poo-gone-before. Gingerly, I tiptoe over suspicious puddles that encircle soggy blobs of toilet paper and, shrinking into myself as much as possible, I enter a stall and try not to brush against any walls. With the tips of two careful fingers I latch the door. Sometimes the latch is broken, and I have to balance on the balls of my feet as I hold the door closed. Usually there is nowhere to hang my purse, and so I sling it over my shoulder where it rests precariously on my back.

I know. So far, this doesn’t sound much different from public restrooms everywhere, but as I hover over the toilet, I see a sign like this one.*

BathroomRulesBrazilThankful101comIt is a lot of rules, including the one that disgusts me the most, and explains why the stinkiest bathrooms stink so badly.

You may not throw your toilet paper into the bowl here, and so there is an overflowing waste receptacle in the corner. I won’t paint a picture with words. Just imagine what’s on that paper. Sometimes the receptacle has a lid and a foot pedal, but then you have to touch it with your foot. I am usually wearing open-toed shoes because high heels are part of the national dress code for women in Brazil. In more casual places, Havaianas are commonly seen, but not a practical choice for traversing swampy bathroom floors. The admonishment not to pee on the floor is there for a reason.

So there I teeter on my high heels, hovering over the seatless toilet with my purse balanced on my back, my fingertips braced against the door, holding my breath against the stench, and hoping to completely empty my bladder so I don’t need to return to this place again before we go home. It’s a lot of pressure.

Assuming the toilet paper dispenser isn’t empty (if it is, I perform another delicate ballet and extricate a paper napkin from my purse), there’s one final gauntlet to overcome before I leave the stall. To flush the toilet, it is necessary to press hard on a large square button embedded in the wall above the toilet — with your fingers. It’s worse when the button is a two-parter on top of the tank. Which to push? One? Both? Important, tricky questions. A mistake could mean catastrophic overflow or merely a wimpy influx of water and no suction.

After all this, I turn myself in a tiny circle, taking care to avoid the shifting mountain of filthy toilet paper, try to calculate which edge of the door has been touched least frequently by bacteria-laden fingers, and pray that there’s soap in the dispenser.

The whole experience becomes considerably less traumatic after a caipirinha or two.

* Rules for Using the Bathroom Politely in Brazil

  • Do not climb on the toilet.
  • Do not pee on the floor.
  • Throw the toilet paper in the basket.
  • After use, discharge (flush).
  • Remember: after you, others use this bathroom.

The Children of One God


This week I started and finished two novels by Barbara Kingsolver, one of my favorite authors: Animal Dreams and Pigs in Heaven. Both novels feature fascinating Cherokee characters and a lot of the socially and ecologically conscious writing for which Kingsolver has become well-known.

Geronimo wasn’t Cherokee, but I like his philosophy. Look at those eyes.

Is Heaven Boring?

Vovozinha's GardenThankful101comI don’t know what today is. I know it’s Sunday, because Tio showed up ready to eat around noon, and he was here yesterday, too. I know it’s still July. I’m pretty sure I haven’t missed my mom’s birthday on the 17th.

Not knowing the date is relaxing, but also mildly distressing since it means my days have no routine. Like a lot of people, I get a little anxious without a meaningful reason to get out of bed in the morning.

This might be why the idea of an eternal life in heaven freaked me out when I was a kid (and still does, if I think about it too hard). At home, even during the summer when I don’t have to go to work, there are time markers, like the primetime TV lineup, and the need to go to the grocery store because we’re out of coffee and tomatoes and the milk is nearing its expiration, and paydays, and weekends, and instant access to all kinds of things to keep me independently entertained and occupied. Here, the TV plays the same lineup of telenovelas 5 or 6 nights a week, a legion of women does all the shopping and cooking, I have no reason to make or spend any money, and — once I have been thoroughly and lovingly welcomed to the country with more meat than any one person should ever eat in one day — the biggest excitement on the weekend involves the aforementioned Tio’s arrival.

Today I begged out of attending a birthday party for a nine year old. I was at his eighth birthday party a year ago. It was interminably long, people kept asking me the same questions (loudly, of course, since shouting makes everything instantly clear to the non-native speaker), and there’s only so much smiling I can do at a time. One left almost 8 hours ago and there’s no telling when he’ll be back.

Instead, I ate lunch with the family, and lay on my belly and drew pictures with the resident 3 year old of the family, and took a nap, and fiddled with my camera, and finished a novel, and started another one, and cursed the intermittent internet connection. I also crafted a series of impressive compound sentences for this blog post. The birthday party seems more appealing now.

Maybe I should have walked up the street to church with vovozinha and One’s mom. I can hear the congregation singing “Hallelujah” in unison and it is lovely. The garden is filled with flowers, the birds are chirping sweetly as they settle into their nests for the night, and the sky is glowing pinky-orange.

If heaven is anything like this, I am going to be bored out of my mind.

In The Land of Order and Progress

BrazilianFlagStylizedThankful101comIt’s taken me a few days to settle down and settle in, but here I am again in Brazil. The trip started with an overnight flight from Miami to Brasilia. When I checked my bags, the agent told me the plane wasn’t full, so I had high hopes of a little spare room for my knees. On previous trips, our flights on TAM Airlines were livestock-crammed-into-tiny-pens miserable. It’s incredible how much the airline industry expects its passengers to endure. It’s incredible how much passengers do endure, and how much we pay for the privilege.

I digress. I boarded the plane near the end of the process and held my breath when I sat down in an empty row. My hopes for a little wiggle room for myself were soon deflated; a five-year-old girl sat down next to me and immediately demonstrated that if any wiggling was to be done, she would do it. And she did. All night. I took several heel kicks to the thigh as she slept with her head cradled in her father’s lap, presumably dreaming that she was a horse. To his credit, he tried very hard to corral her galloping feet.

I spent the 7 ½ hour flight huddled into the frigid cabin wall, adjusting my layers and trying to keep the too-small airline blanket from touching my face. We’ve all seen some version of the television exposé, How Clean Is That, Really?, right?

At 7:45 local time the plane landed and I made my way through customs without arousing suspicion from the authorities, which was pretty easy since I stood my ground and refused to act as a parcel service and schlep “just a couple of things” into the country for 17 different people. Within 20 minutes or so, I settled in for a 5 ½ hour layover. Yay.

So … “Where was One?” you might wonder. Part of the reason Thankful101 has been so quiet these past several weeks is that he’s been here, in Brazil, attending to some business while I finished the school year and spent the early part of summer with my family in WV. Since I missed him so much, I couldn’t figure out a way to update the blog without announcing to the world that I was alone and vulnerable, and inviting some crazed cyber-freak to break into my house and commit unspeakable crimes.

(Apparently I’m not 22 and invincible anymore, since I think about these things. Ha.)

The layover crept by without notable event, except for the 45 minute wait to recheck my bags, and I finally boarded the quick flight to Goiania where One was waiting as patiently as he could.

It was a happy reunion, and in honor of the 4th of July, we made a few metaphorical fireworks. ;)

For the Record:

  • My Portuguese is noticeably improved from my last visit. I feel less foreign every time I come.
  • Once again, the Brazilians are trying to kill me with food. I have eaten more meat in the past two days than I have in the past two months, probably.
  • The legroom on American Airlines is superior to TAM, but still lacking. The seats also seem to have better padding.
  • Although I am in the 12th largest city in the country, I have seen no obvious signs of national protest or revolution. The nightly news reports show that people are still organizing protests against corrupt politicians, and the Facebook pages of my Brazilian friends and family are filled with images, thought-provoking status updates, and anti-government images and memes.

Be sure to “like” Thankful101 for updates and pictures of our adventures here.


Not Dead, Just Busy

It’s already 3 1/2 weeks into summer. Time flies.

Tomorrow I leave for Brazil, and in true “me” fashion, I am procrastinating wildly. I have a TON of things to do to prepare for the trip (one of which is to make a list of all the things I need to do so I don’t forget anything), but apparently my brain has decided that posting on my neglected blog is of paramount importance.

If there were a cure for this affliction, I’d have discovered it by now, right?

For the Record:

  • I really enjoyed seeing my nieces and nephews and brothers and sisters-in-law and momma and Georgie during my nearly 2 weeks in WV.
  • Today is the first birthday of Sam.
  • It is almost 11 o’clock in the morning. I really need to get busy!
  • I still have lots to say.

Next post from Brazil. :)

Teacher Let the Bulls Out!

EmptyClassroomNo blues here!

The classroom is empty. The walls are bare. The white board is devoid of smears. The final exams are scored and the final grades have been verified. The textbooks and computers and classroom furniture have been inventoried. The gang graffiti on the bathroom ceiling has been reported. The car is packed up. The keys and parking decal have been turned in. Every single task on my End of Year Checkout List has been ticked and signed off.

And now I wait.

Officially, the last day of school for teachers is tomorrow, but I have used my powers of inference and decided that “Once you’ve completed the checkout procedures, have a nice summer!” means that I have no obligation to show up.

Nobody said anything about leaving early today, though.

So I wait.

Two hours and 59 minutes I have been waiting. The few students on my roster either didn’t make an appearance today, or begged their moms to let them leave early. I’ll blame it on the torrential rain.

Only one student took the time to say good-bye. He brought me a Thank You card with a brief but sweet note and a gift certificate. He’s going to be just fine. He has goals and aspirations — and a mother he fears.

Success up to age 20 or so often requires a healthy dose of mother fear.

For the Record:

  • Weather: Rainy. Gusty. Under a tornado watch. Muggy and warm.
  • I will miss the morning sunlight streaming through my east-facing classroom windows.
  • The first thing I am going to do when I get home is turn off my alarm clock!
  • In 4 days I will be at home in WV with some of my very favorite people. Yay!
  • You haven’t heard the half of what I’ve experienced this year. I’ve been kinda quiet these past few months. My life and outlook has changed and I am still processing some of the things I’ve learned and experienced. I hope I’ve made a positive impact on my students.
  • Only time will tell.