Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Snow in October -- A View from the Trenches

 Driving around Bergen County these days makes me think the Knights who say "Ni" have been around demanding shrubberies. When you look more closely, you realize the shrubs at the edges of people's lawns are actually piles of branches and leaves, broken by this past week's snowstorm, fondly known on Twitter as "Snowtober".

For about a week, I complained every time I saw the upcoming weather forecast. "What do you mean, rain/snow on Saturday?" Little did I know just how bad it would be. As most of you know by now, the rain turned to snow much sooner than expected. And it was a heavy, wet snow. And the trees were still covered with leaves. And that was bad.

Around 2:00 pm on Saturday, as I worked on the computer, blink, blink . . . no power. And it stayed that way until 7:00 am on Wednesday. The house got very cold (around 45F).The good news is that it kept the refrigerator and freezer cold (helped by the ice packs I pulled out of the freezer and distributed and supplemented by Ziploc bags of snow added to the fridge on Tuesday). We were lucky -- we could light the gas burners on our stove using matches (but not our oven). We had hot water (although the thought of stepping out of the shower with wet hair into the cold bathroom was more than I could deal with). And we had lanterns and lots of sweatshirts, fleeces, quilts, etc. So we managed.

I kept my smartphone charged by driving around with it, charging it from my laptop, and asking restaurants where I went for lunch or dinner if they had a spare outlet. By Tuesday, Fairleigh Dickinson University (where I teach Tuesday afternoons) had their power back and I taught my class. This gave me the opportunity to warm up and completely charge my laptop and phone. I also got to reassure my students that it was okay they hadn't completed their homework -- I couldn't have printed it out even if they had sent it.To quote the provost at FDU, "it has certainly been an interesting semester so far. The October snowstorm is just the latest surprise" (we already had a delayed opening due to Hurricane Irene).

Our poor cat, Charley, could not understand what was going on. He was cold (at night he snuggled up with us in bed, though he wouldn't come under the quilt). And he couldn't figure out the lanterns. Once all the lights in the house were out it was bedtime and we were supposed to be asleep, so he could come into bed with us. But instead, much to his annoyance, we were sitting up and reading.

We were lucky -- it was never as bad as Alabama after the tornadoes, it was never as bad as Turkey, after the recent earthquake. Of course PSEG could have been more communicative. Their website said the very latest news was available on their special twitter account which, until sometime later on Sunday, hadn't posted a tweet since September 21. It was very heartening to see all of the non-PSEG repair trucks in the area.

I can't help but wonder if the snow was a result of what was in the Sunday papers. Both Toy'R'Us and Kmart had their toy catalogs in the Sunday, October 30 paper -- not only was it before Thanksgiving it was before Halloween! Target was just a week behind, theirs was in the Sunday, November 6 paper. No more tempting Mother Nature -- keep the holidays and seasons where they belong!

Monday, June 6, 2011

So, Is a Little Evil Okay?

This was the year I chose three words to follow -- caring, integrity, and joy. So how have I been doing? Well . . .

I blew it -- and I got caught. Last week Ike Pigott posted on Twitter: "So much for Google's "Don't Be Evil" mantra (Google deals dirty with PayPal)", referring to PayPal suing Google over Google's new mobile payment system. And, being in a snarky mood, I posted back "PayPal (& eBay) have done so much evil in the past (& still do), I don't care if Google deals dirty with them." To which Ike responded "Are you really saying it's okay to engage in unethical behavior because of who you're sticking it to?"

Oops -- no, of course that's not what I meant [and I did respond "I suppose when you put it that way, no. If good, you should always take the high road (even if I hate PayPal)"]. The end does not justify the means. Being a little bit evil is like being a little bit pregnant. You can't pick and choose when it's okay to be evil or when you should be ethical.

This leads to the next question. Does posting something on Twitter really matter that much? Yes, it does. If I'm supposed to be standing for something (integrity), then that means that I need to stand for it all the time. If it's a part of me, then it has to be a part of me all the time. And just because I want to sound "cute" on Twitter and "play" with the big boys, is no excuse. Nor is, but I really like Google and don't want to think of them as being evil.

So, Ike, thanks for catching me out. I'll try to do better.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

It’s Not Just When to Say No, but When to Say Yes

Do you suffer from Bottom syndrome? No – this isn’t another call to hit the gym. To understand this condition, you need to read William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

As a diversion within Shakespeare’s play, a small group of laborers are going to perform their own play, the story of Pyramus and Thisbe. Peter Quince, the director, is reading off each man’s role. Although Nick Bottom is the first to receive his assignment, each time Quince lists a new character Bottom eagerly volunteers to take that role, reciting all the reasons why he can do it.

Does this sound familiar? How often do you do this? Sitting in a committee meeting, volunteers are needed. Or your client asks for a whole laundry list of items. Or someone in your family needs some help. And your response is “Oh, I can do that! I can do that! I can do that!” Suddenly you’ve volunteered for all sorts of projects and are overwhelmed.

Just as Quince explained to Bottom, “You can play no part but Pyramus”, we must decide what parts we should play. We’ve heard many times that we need to learn to say “No”. But we also need to decide what to say “Yes” to. Your list can be prioritized by:

    1.) What you do best;
    2.) What you enjoy doing; and
    3.) What you have the time to do.

What is it you do best? This needs to be your focus. Sure you can do a variety of things (we are women – born to multi-task!), but they only distract you from your main role. And there are probably other people who can do those other things as well or better than you can. So let them! Now add the things you enjoy doing. Whether it’s work or relaxation, we give our best effort to the things we like to do.

And most importantly, don’t take on more than you have time for.  You will stress yourself out. Sometimes you may even have to temporarily give up something you enjoy doing if the stress of trying to fit it into your schedule overwhelms the pleasure you would have gotten from it.

Poor Bottom, after trying to take on everyone else’s responsibilities (and annoying them all in the process), he is turned into an ass by Puck, the Fairy King’s assistant. Definitely a lesson to us all! Remember to nurture yourself and your business. Take time to plan and prioritize. Don’t emulate Bottom, but rather learn your limits, where to put your time and effort, and when to say yes.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Verizon, Can You Hear ME Now?

Why do I ever think it's going to be easy dealing with Verizon? There is always a problem. In the past, I've spoken with really nice people who always promise to take care of the problem; months later I find out the problem was never taken care of.

This time the problem was an unauthorized third party charging my Verizon phone bill. I happened to look at the March bill and found, under Other Charges, some company I'd never heard of charging us $12.95 (plus tax). I eventually discovered Compufixcomp is located in California (not to be confused with a similarly named company in Pennsylvania) and we'd supposedly signed-up for on-line computer maintenance. First I called the number on the Verizon bill for questions; after spinning through the various menus, I noticed there was an "800" phone number on the bill for this unknown company. The person who answered didn't seem very surprised when I expressed no knowledge of them and demanded a cancellation and refund. She gave me a confirmation number and supposedly took my e-mail address to send a confirming e-mail (not yet received, five days later).

The current Verizon bill is scheduled to be automatically paid by credit card on Monday, March 28. This was Wednesday, March 23. I don't really trust this company to refund my money, so I wanted to get the charge off the March bill before March 28. Which meant it was back to the interminable Verizon menus (and the ridiculously chirpy "lady" -- do they really think that they have the callers fooled into thinking it's a real person?) I eventually got through to the "ask a question about the bill" person. They apparently could only answer questions about the bill, they couldn't do anything about the bill, but they did transfer me to the payment people. I eventually was connected to a real person in a billing office in NJ (the state in which I live). He could help me arrange payment plans, look at previous payments and future payments, but not change anything on the bill. He transferred me to Heidi, a "billing specialist". She was a very nice lady and she was happy to take the $12.95 charge off my bill. She was also pleased that I'd spoken with the company, as that was what she was going to tell me to do next. And she even said we could put a block on our account so no one could automatically bill anything to it without our permission (I thought I'd already done that, but even if I hadn't, shouldn't that be the default?)

And then came the big problem . . . when Heidi said she couldn't guarantee that the $12.95 wouldn't be charged to my credit card on March 28, because it can take one to two (or maybe even two to three) billing cycles for things to be corrected. I asked her if she had taken the charge off and she said yes. I asked then how could it still get charged. She mumbled things about taxes and the one to two billing cycles. I pointed out this was being done on a computer and therefore should be completed. After going round a few times, I asked to speak with a supervisor, which she was happy to do. Heidi then sat on hold with me (breaking into the music every few minutes to say we were still on hold). By now over an hour had gone by on this endless quest.

Finally Mr. Smith came on. Yes, he understood the problem. He then did something that poor Heidi wasn't able (wasn't allowed?) to do and said the charge was now off of the bill. I asked about blocking unauthorized payments to my account. He said he could do that. I think he did, not really sure because he mumbled. So, I'm waiting to see what happens today (Monday) -- what will be charged to my credit card? Will this company continue to charge me? Will Verizon indeed block unauthorized charges to my account?

As I was quite aggravated after spending well over an hour on dealing with this, I decided to follow-up by tweeting that Verizon customer service sucked. Amazingly, within minutes I had a tweeted response and  a Verizon Customer Service  follow on Twitter. Wow, what friendly, cheery people work on Verizon's social media. Too bad the people that do the actual work aren't able to respond as quickly or effectively. Who cares if Verizon monitors their social media accounts if they don't allow their employees to fix customers' problems. There wouldn't be a need to monitor Verizon's social media so closely if the problems didn't happen in the first place. So Verizon, try putting some of your money into upgrading customer service and actually serve your customers! (And while you're at it, get rid of the computer lady on the phone calls and give me an understandable menu with just a few options.)

UPDATE: Bill has posted on AmEx, the correction was not made, the unauthorized charge was included. Thanks a lot, Verizon!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Click Your Heels and Say . . . (Day 9 in Brasil)

We are home from Brasil -- only two days late. The delay gave us day 9 in Brasil.

Cris left early Sunday morning for church as she sings in the choir (just like last Sunday). After a quick stop at the padaria, Nancy and Mike shared a taxi with Fred, dropping him off at church (where he'll have breakfast with Cris before the second service), and then heading to the Botanical Gardens of Sao Paulo. What a beautiful place! Very, very tropical with palm trees, orchids, birds of paradise, and other wonderful plants. There are lots of photos.

The plan was that when we were done, we were supposed to say to someone, "Voce pode chamar um taxi por favor?" (Can you call me a taxi?) [To which I responded to Fred, "you're a taxi". Unfortunately, there was no taxi stand as there had been at the park, no one knew anyplace to call, and the only taxis that went by were full and going in the wrong direction. Luckily Fred had given us one of cell phones. We called and explained the problem, he called a taxi company, and, about 20 minutes later, the taxi showed up, taking us to the Chinese restaurant where everyone was waiting. (As Fred explained, this was a good Chinese restaurant, the owners were actually Chinese.) We were a little surprised to see that there were three other people besides Cris and Fred. Nancy realized the other lady looked very much like Cris and deduced it was her twin sister Priscilla (along with husband Sergio and thirteen year old son Dmitri). The food was good, we had fun, especially as everyone spoke English.

When we came out it had started raining. It was still raining when we got to the apartment. It was raining hard at the soccer/football game we turned on (Sao Paulo versus someone). In fact it was raining so hard the start of the game was delayed because everything at the field (including the lower parts of the stands) were flooded. They showed a lady being airlifted out by helicopter as she'd gone into labor. They also showed some of the roadways in Sao Paulo that were flooded, particularly the highway with the river that runs through the median, the highway that goes to the airport. Now we were worried that we might not make it to the airport.

We left the apartment a little before 6 pm. At one point the roadway did slow down and Fred took an alternate route (one that is usually fairly busy, but we think many of the cars were caught somewhere by the flooding). He was then able to cut over to the highway which wasn't flooded and was moving freely. We were at the airport in about 1/2 hour. Thanks to Mike's silver elite status, we were able to bypass the long check-in line. Finally, our luggage was checked and we had boarding passes. Mike, Cris, and Fred had Ovalmatine McFlurries (yes, they contain ovaltine). And then it was time, again, to say good-bye. We made it through security and found our gate. Nancy bought a last can of guarana and some mini cheese bread.

And  then we actually boarded the plane, which actually took off. Dinner was served, lights were turned out, and we slept. A little over an hour before we landed lights came on, breakfast was served (this time the fruit cup came from Brasil so it was honeydew melon and papaya!), and custom forms were handed out. The plane landed at Newark (Liberty) Airport and we were back in NJ at around 6:13 am. Amazingly, just about an hour later, 7:15 am, the car service was pulling up in front of our house. Mike raced inside (the driver helped get the suitcases up to the front door) and Nancy paid the driver. By 7:45 Mike was at school (it helps that we only live three blocks away).

As Dorothy said . . . "there's no place like home". (There will be one more blog, no photos, just some thoughts about being in Brasil.)

Day 9 Photos

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ground Hog Day, Brasil Style (Day 8 in Brasil)

 We are still in Brasil . . .

Friday morning we packed so that we'd be ready to head to the airport later in the day. As you know, the flight was canceled. Which meant some unpacking for Friday night. And then packing again Saturday morning (at 5:30 am) so we could leave for the airport at 6 am.

Fred dropped us off at what we thought was the right place for Continental. Of course we really needed to be at the other end of the other terminal. Eventually Fred found us and helped with some translating which basically came down to Continental hadn't communicated well with TAM so, although Continental sent us a confirmation e-mail, TAM had no record of us -- and no seats! We were sent to another line, to get on the wait-list. Fred and Nancy went in search of the Continental office. We eventually found one (down a snaking corridor) but it was closed. Someone at one of the other airline offices told Fred how to find the other office (up an escalator, behind the telephone office, down the hall). No one there either. So, it was back to Mike. After more standing in line and Fred talking with the supervisor, bottom line, no seats.

Back to the car; as we loaded our luggage in Fred's car, he said, "Welcome to Brasil." Nancy responded, "Abrigado (thank you)". Then we headed back to the apartment with a stop at an electrical supply store (Fred needed some things for the office), and then at the office. This time, however, Nancy was able to say, ahh, there's the building with the tall antenna, there's the Greek Orthodox church, there's the complex of buildings where Fred's office is. Back at the apartment building, Fred said, "Welcome to our apartment." Nancy responded, " 'brigado."

And it was time to partially unpack, again, and change out of our travel clothes (long sleeve t-shirt, smartwool socks) and into our Brasil clothes so we could go across the street to the padaria for breakfast. Of course they were very surprised to see us; Nancy told Fred to tell them the breakfast was so bad at the airport we had to come back. The dogs (Noelle and Tasha) were very glad to see us again and so was Cris (who was now awake, Saturday is her only day to sleep in, during the week school starts at 7 am).

We had a quiet morning, Fred went off for the meeting he'd postponed, Mike took a nap. Nancy and Cris visited a local shop (they call it an apothecary, it's like the Body Shop or Bath & Body Works). Nancy got passion fruit body lotion and guaranara hand cream (guaranara is a small berry used for Nancy's favorite Brasilian soda).

We went down the block for lunch at Metrolandia Lanchonete (which is pretty much what it's name suggests). As we were leaving the building, we ran into Gabby, Marcio, and his mother and they agreed to join us (we had dinner with them Thursday night). Mike and Nancy shared feijoada, a typical Brasilian dish with bits of meat stewed in beans, rice, greens, and cassava flour (farofa) (see the photos and the links for more information). Then it was back to the apartment for a quiet afternoon. Nancy took a nap, Cris worked, more episodes of Big Bang Theory were watched. A quick trip to the padaria bought the makings for a light dinner (rolls, cold cuts, cheese). This was followed by a House marathon.

And then just as Mike was about to check-in for our flight, the power went out. Luckily Cris had an iPhone, and we were able to check-in and get bulkhead seats. We went to sleep by flashlight. 

Day 8 photos

Friday, February 25, 2011

We're Flying Home When? (Day 7 in Brasil)

Apparently one should never tempt fate by saying "we're enjoying our penultimate day" -- this morning (after our usual breakfast at the padaria and lots of hearty ciao's) Mike went on-line to check tonight's flight home and found it was canceled. The next scene was Mike on the Vonage phone to Continental in the US, Fred on the landline phone to Continental Brasil (while fielding calls on his two cell phones), and Nancy on the computer. Eventually Fred got through and was told we would be put on the Sunday night flight, getting in Monday morning. When I protested, he gave me the phone and I got to explain to the nice Brasilian agent that we had work on Monday and couldn't arrive that morning. Eventually he offered a Saturday flight, leaving at 8:45 am (Brasil time), arriving at JFK (my least favorite NY airport) 4:45 pm (EST), on a plane operated by TAM (the Brasilian airline, partner with Continental). We agreed.

So, we had the whole day ahead of us. And what else is there to do but shop. Fred took us to a nearby mall. We left Mike in a nice chair with a folder of work and we strolled around the mall. Many of the stores were having big sales (mainly on clothes and shoes). Apparently Fred felt I knew what I was doing because he left me to go to a quick meeting across the street. After wandering around for a while, I found the Brazilmania store where I was able to buy a few souvenirs. I went down to show Mike my finds (leaving the bag with him).

Then I found two different homeware stores. You'll see my photos of different glass objects, fondue pots, and caipirinha kits (allows you to make a really potent Brasilian drink). There were also all the items needed for your own barbecue -- huge skewers, huge knives, etc. As with any good mall, there was a McDonalds; this one had a separate stand for the ice cream.  Lunch was at German restaurant where we all had rib eye steaks (what else would you eat in a beef country?) We went to a huge bookstore in the mall where Mike found some more DVDs of Brasilian musicians. Check out the photos of movies you know and love, but in Portuguese.

One of our other friends (Fabio) came over to join us for dinner. We met him last year when he came up to NJ with Fred. We went to a really lovely pizza restaurant where we ate outside among the trees. We had an appetizer that was a Brasilian version of eggplant rollatine. Mike's pizza had mushrooms and onions. The other pizza had cheese, egg, asparagus, and parma ham (it tasted really good). There are photos, but none of dessert -- my guava tart.

Hopefully in the morning I'll be on a plane home and the next time you hear from me is from NJ.

Day 7 photos

Bom Dia (Good Morning) from Brasil (Day 6 in Brasil)

On our penultimate day in Brasil we started, as usual, at the padaria. This morning Nancy had a multigrain roll and her orange and papays juice. (The juicer at home may have to come out of storage.) This morning Fred had errands to run so he dropped Nancy and Mike at the huge park in Sao Paulo. Mike describes it as SP's Central Park. We walked, watching people jog, run, and bike. There's exercise equipment for people to use. The refreshment carts have, in addition to Gatorade, soda, and juice, coconuts so they can serve fresh coconut milk. At the lake we saw white and black swans, geese, a crane, a cormorant, and vultures (similar to the turkey vultures back home). There was a bird that looked similar to a robin, but wasn't. After walking, we found a shady bench and Nancy finished grading her students' papers (and there's a photo to prove it!)

After Fred picked us up, we were on our way to USP, University of Sao Paulo (pronounced oohs-pee) to visit with another one of Mike's colleagues. He ran the conference that Mike attended last August (and I got to meet him last year in San Francisco at the AGU conference). We had lunch at the faculty dining room -- which is in the middle of a "jungle" (see the photos!) It was a very nice buffet and a nice visit.

Our next stop did not make Mike happy, it was at a shopping mall (those who know Mike know that he hates malls), but a very, very upscale mall. This meant it was very quiet and calm. We found a big bookstore and Mike had fun finding some DVDs of Brasilian performers he enjoys. Nancy  bought a copy of T.S. Eliot's book of cats/gatos (on which the musical Cats is based) -- the front is in Portuguese, the back in English (to try and learn some Portuguese).. We went to the upper level of the mall to take photos of the city. Then across the bridge over the river and back to the apartment. Cris came home from a long day of teaching and meetings. Around 8:30 pm we walked several blocks to a small restaurant to meet friends for dinner. Nancy tried one of the famous dishes of Brasil, baccala (salted cod). The restaurant makes it twelve different ways -- we only tried one. Mike shared a dish with Cris that is typical of northeastern Brasil and included rice, meat, and cubes of plantain.

Day 6 photos

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Just Another Day in the Tropics (Day 5 in Brasil)

Breakfast at the padaria (it's called Amanda after the owner's daughter). No photos of breakfast as my camera battery was charging. First stop this morning was Fred's office where I printed out my students' homework that was due Tuesday evening (I warned them that there is Internet in Brasil!) While Fred fought with a software supplier in Russia, I started grading.

Lunch was at a Brasilian Japanese restaurant (all you can eat). It was an interesting mix of mostly real Japanese, a little Chinese, and some Brasilian (where else do you end a Japanese meal with coffee?) The fried banana sushi was a little odd, and I never did figure out the sushi roll that had hot sauce dripped on it.

We eventually located a post office as Fred had to mail a letter. Apparently a class of students was being taught how to mail a letter; each went up and bought a stamp and then mailed a letter to him/herself. And people say snailmail is dead. While Fred was in the post office, the afternoon t'storm came through -- heavy wind and rain. And then it was gone.

Next stop was a delightful surprise -- the local fire station which included a museum in the beautiful mansion once owned by a coffee plantation owner. As some of you know, our daughter Kate is a critical care paramedic. She works in management (training, etc.) for a transport ambulance company and rides rescue one day a week out of one of the Sterling, VA, firehouses. So, we were very excited to be able to take photos at the Brasilian fire station. One of the firefighters gave us a tour of some of their trucks and then showed us around the museum. He is trained as a fire fighter and medical first responder. It was very nice that he spoke English (he is planning to move to Australia in the next 12 months). There are photos, but only Kate got all of the ones we took.

Fred then took us to an upscale grocery store so we could buy some things to take home (coffee, chocolates). I took some photos but then was asked not to by one of the store managers as he was afraid we were going to steal their marketing ideas. You will see interesting baskets of citrus fruits -- although most of  them are green, some are ripe oranges and tangerines (I bought one that you will see partially peeled to prove it's orange inside). Then it was back to the apartment for a brief rest.

While Mike caught up on his Big Bang Theory dvd's, Fred and Nancy visited some neighborhood shops -- a drugstore (many familiar products but at much higher prices), a very upscale chocolate shop (Copenhagen), and the local grocery store (we are on a quest for Mike's favorite Brasilian tea, but still haven't found it). The last stop was at the newest branch of the Santander bank, just around the corner. Their grand opening celebration was in the evening. Fred did go back to do some networking. When Cris got home (she had an afterschool meeting and dinner with a friend), we all stopped by the bank and then went to the padaria to pick up things for a light dinner (Nancy had cheese bread).

Here are day 5 photos.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Why is There a Salad on my Pizza? (Day 4 in Brasil)

As always we start the day at the padaria down the street (the real way to spell bakery in Portuguese!) Nancy was more daring today and had cheese bread; the cook added a piece of french toast (very cinnamony) and some fried cheese strips. And of course a glass of fresh papaya orange juice.

Rodizio is Portuguese and roughly translates to "many different kinds". In reference to food (such as at the grilled meat restaurant or even a pizza place) it means all-you-can-eat with many choices. When referring to traffic in Sao Paulo, it means that based on the last number of your license plate, you travel is restricted on certain days. So, as Fred's license plate ends in 3 and today is the 3rd day of the week, he cannot drive the car between 7 and 10 am and 5 and 8 pm (rush hour). That means we have some quiet time around the apartment. And then we're off to Campinus, which is north northeast of Sao Paulo (see map at front of today's photos), about one hour away.

The highways are interesting, lots of trucks. No tunnels this time. First stop is outside of Campinus at the Royal Palm Hotel. It's huge and beautiful -- the site of many conferences (we could see lots of people with their name tags). We lunch at the buffet. Wonderful food, beautifully displayed (see the photos).

The next stop is at a special place -- the Bradesco Foundation. This foundation was started by the founder of the Bradesco bank. We are at it's headquarters, where there is also a k to 12 school and the Bradesco Technology Institute. There are forty schools around Brasil, serving around 112,000 students. These schools are totally free for the students, including uniforms, textbooks, laptops, and food. First priority is given to the children of the bank employees but the rest of the spaces are reserved for poor students. We are given a tour of the school.And then we visit the Technology Institute where Microsoft, Intel, Cisco, several other software companies, and Lego have all joined forces to supply training for students, teachers, and industry.

Then it's back on the highway and we finally find Unicamp, the university at Campinus. Mike is visiting with a professor of geology he met last summer. They ran a teacher training workshop in southern Brasil (at Iguassu Falls) last August. This is his friend's chance to show us their facilities at the university. And then we are invited back to his house where we get to meet their 6 dogs and some of their 14 cats. His wife works with a cat and dog rescue organization.

Fred, Mike, and Nancy join our friend, his wife, her mother, and his son for dinner at a pizza restaurant. There is a huge list of pizzas to choose from and eventually we settle on one large pie that is half four cheeses and half onions and mushrooms and a second large pie that is half pepperoni and half escarole. Needless to say, the pizzas were a bit surprising. There was pepperoni on my slice of pizza, also a huge amount of cheese, no discernible tomato sauce, and some sun-dried tomatoes. And it was completely covered with chopped arugula. You can see it in the photos. It was an interesting dinner -- our friend the geology professor spoke fairly good English, his wife understands some English but doesn't feel comfortable speaking it, the MIL spoke no English, and the 32-year old son (probably moderate Asperger syndrome) spoke some English. I sat across from Fred so I'd have someone to translate for me.

Finally dinner was finished and we were able to leave (around 9:30 pm) and head back to SP. Did I mention that an early dinner here would be around 7 pm, the usual time seems to be 8 pm.

Enjoy day 4 photos.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Joy of the Beach in February (Day 3 in Brasil)

Breakfast was our usual -- buttered rolls, coffee for Mike and Fred, and freshly made orange/papaya juice for Nancy. Cris wasn't with us as she teaches at a nearby high school and had left much earlier. We hung out at the apartment while Fred made a quick trip (3 blocks away) to his office and brought back a bag of cheese bread fresh from the oven (see photos). Then it was off to Santo -- about an hour south east of Sao Paulo (see map at start of photos).

Highways in Brasil are similar to highways back home -- just more interesting things to see along the way. Beautiful flowering trees interspersed with what can only be called slums. There is a brief glimpse in one of my highway photos. We also stopped by one of the large reservoirs that serves the city of Sao Paulo. Just as we have New York City and New York state, Sao Paulo is a city within the state of Sao Paulo. Santos is also located in the state of Sao Paulo. It is best known (at least by me) as the home of Pele, the great soccer/football star.

The city of Rio is known for its fancy sidewalks and Santos has similar ones -- mosaics. Along the street by the beach are many tall apartment buildings. Unfortunately, there is no bedrock beneath them and over time they have tilted, which you might be able to see in my photos. Our first stop was lunch. Mike and Fred went to this restaurant about 3 or 4 years ago (although Fred had been there many times before). The waiter remembered Mike when we came in and was very happy to see us. Lunch was a large platter of fish (badejo, a type of grouper) that had been grilled and covered with a tasty sauce that included tiny shrimp, mushrooms, capers, garlic, and oil) with rice and potatoes. Although it was enough food to feed a small country for a week, we did finish it. Mike and Fred shared a beer, Nancy had fresh passion fruit juice.

To work off our lunch we went to walk on the beach. The water was very, very warm -- it felt like a bathtub. Mike explained it had something to do with equatorial currents. On the beach are mobile bars and ice cream vendors, who will also rent chairs and umbrellas. We then went to the Santos Aquarium, very nice (there are lots of photos). Mike is very happy here because in Brasil seniors are defined as 60 or over; every place has at least a reduced price if not free admission.

We watched a very large ship leaving the port. Santos is a major seaport (looked a lot like the area around Newark with all of the containers). Fred then treated us to fresh sugar cane juice -- one bottle was flavored with fresh lime (which they call limon; the yellow things are lima -- talk about confused!) There are some photos of the sugar cane cart -- the lady who owns it spent about five years in Florida (there's a big Brazilian population in the Orlando area) and was happy to speak English with us.

Then after a wild ride through Santos we found the Coffee Museum. It is on an old,cobble-stoned street with many buildings from the early 1900's. Because Brasil was a Portuguese colony, many of the buildings are European in style. The museum was originally the coffee exchange and now contains photos and old equipment and things (for the glassies reading this, note the Anchor Hocking candy dish). See the photos. Mike and Fred drank coffee at the cafe and we purchased a half kilo of some special coffee to bring home to Sam (my son the coffee drinker).

Time to head back to Sao Paulo. The highways between SP and Santos go through the mountains, including several tunnels. Very picturesque, also a little scary with all of the trucks and crazy drivers. The horn is an integral part of driving in Brasil. We encountered some light rain on our way back but found out there had been a major thunderstorm in SP while we were gone. Cris told us her school lost power twice.

We had a quiet evening at home. And only a very light dinner. Watched some more Big Bang Theory on DVD.

Day 3 photos

Monday, February 21, 2011

Greetings from Brazil -- Where the Nuts Come From (Days 1 & 2)

 Day 1

Greetings from Brasil (as it is spelled down here). It is wonderful to be where it is summer (and tropical), especially knowing that it is snowing on Monday in NJ. Here's a brief look at what we've been doing our first two days in Brasil, along with some photos.

Good flight Friday night, I even slept on the plane (unusual for me). We landed in Sao Paulo, Brasil around 11 am on Saturday. After making it through customs, our friends Fred and Cris met us and took us out to their car (parked on a grassy spot as there isn't enough parking). After getting to their apartment, and meeting Noelle and Tasha (Cris & Fred's furry little dogs), it was off to Churrascaria Noviiho de Prata (a rotisserie restaurant for lunch). Even more amazing than the versions in the US!

Fred & Cris had a surprise for us -- on Sunday we were going to a football match (soccer for those of you in the US), Corinthians (home team) vs. Santos. So after lunch we went for a pre-visit to the football stadium to see the football museum. It is only about a year old and very impressive -- lots of digital media, photos, etc. And they insisted my husband Mike had to get a Corinthians shirt, with his name on the back. Next stop was the office building where Fred has his office and runs the little coffee shop in the lobby. We were treated to hot chocolate and then went up on the roof of the building (there are some great "aerial" photos of Sao Paulo. Then back to the apartment for some quiet time (and watching our Big Bang Theory DVD). Although I wasn't hungry, around 8 pm we went to a local pizzeria (Vila Milagro) where I had a salad and a small taste of the pizza.

photos from Day 1

Day 2

Cris was out early as she sings in their church's choir. We woke up later and went across the street with Fred to the pateria (sort of a bakery/deli/convenience shop). Breakfast was buttered rolls, coffee for the men, and some tasty tropical juice for me (Fred has promised to show me a photo of the fruit on the Internet). Then we took a taxi to the church, arriving near the end of the service so we got to see and hear Cris.

Next stop was lunch at a beautiful restaurant that had been converted from an old mansion. The specialty is paella (which we got to see them preparing). But of course there were three big buffet tables -- salads, hot dishes, and dessert.Another delicious meal.Many of the patrons had very upscale cars (see photos). And there was an artist and a pond with koi. Across the street was a gas station -- cars here can run on just ethanol, which is subsidized by the government (and made from sugar cane), so it's cheaper.

We drove to an upscale neighborhood near the stadium, paying a security guard (from the neighborhood) to park in front of one of the houses. Football in Brasil is unlike football in the US. And this game in particular was between two major rivals. The armed police (bullet-proof vests, riot shields, helmets) was my first indication this might be a little different. The fans have huge banners that they unroll during the game and then roll up again (you'll see photos). Also, one of the star players for Corinthians, Ronaldo, just retired and he had his official farewell before the game. The Santos fans were in one small corner of the stadium with their own police guard. Corinthians scored first, only to have Santos tie it up. Just before the second half, the thunder storm that had been threatening hit -- a true tropical deluge. Fred, Cris, & I went above the seats where there was a roof, Mike stood on the last row of seats just under the overhang. Corinthians scored on a penalty shot and then, close to the end, scored again to make the final score 3x1 (the way they show scores here).

Back at the apartment we watched more Big Bang Theory and had a very light dinner.As Fred has Vonage, we were able to make some calls home.

Photos from Day 2

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

You Can Go Home Again (Sort of)

For a few hours this past Saturday night, I was a teenager again. My daughter and I went to a Chad & Jeremy concert. For those who don't know Chad & Jeremy, they are a '60s folk-rock duo -- Chad Stuart and Jeremy Clyde. Although I was an ardent fan as a teenager, this was the first time I saw them in person.

Chad & Jeremy
(photo by N. Passow)
The concert was wonderful -- they've aged well, their voices are still strong and lovely, and they were very entertaining. Prior to singing one song, Jeremy told about hanging out with the song writer, someone who wrote "brilliant" songs and was so excited that Chad & Jeremy were going to record one of his songs. And then, just before the album was released, the song writer got a call telling him to come home to the U.S. as one of his other songs had just broken big. At which point C&J sang "Homeward Bound". Yes, it was Paul Simon, who had gone to England when it didn't look like he and Art Garfunkel would be successful, only to have "Sounds of Silence" become a hit. (If it's any consolation, Chad and Jeremy are still singing together, Paul and Art aren't.)

One of the last songs they sang that evening was their biggest hit, "Summer Song". It sounded as good to me as it did all those years ago:

They say that all good things must end, someday, Autumn leaves must fall.
But don't you know, that it hurts me so to say good-bye to you.
Wish you didn't have to go, oh no, no, no.
And when the rain beats against my window pane,
I'll think of summer days again, and dream of you.

I can remember singing that song as I grappled with the typical teenage relationships. And I suppose that part of what draws me back to it are the memories. It's hard to separate the nostalgia from the actual song.

So, what song brings back memories for you?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

My Three Words for the New Year

The start of the New Year is a good time to take stock and think about who you are and what you stand for. I am reminded of this by our daily newspaper, The Record (northern NJ), which publishes their Editorial Credo every year on January 1. Continuing that theme, one of the people I have started following on Twitter is Chris Brogan. In his January 1, 2011, blog he presents his "3 Words for 2011".  Chris has been doing this for several years and inspiring others to also choose their three words. After reading his blog, I thought it was a great idea, but couldn't think of three words. Then this morning, as I was driving to Sunday morning minyan and bagel breakfast at my temple, my words came to me: Caring, Integrity, and Joy.

Caring:  part of what makes me who I am is that I care -- about people, about ideas, about the world around me, about what other people think about me. Sometimes though I forget how important other people are. The other day, while trying to clear up my desk, an old fortune cookie fortune appeared "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting their battle too." So, in 2011 I will remember to care about me and about others. (As a start, no more snarky comments, at least not in public). And there will be another blog on this, our Rabbi spoke about "you don't know what you don't know" about other people; always give them the benefit of the doubt.

Integrity:  just as The Record reiterates who they are and what they stand for, I too must stand for something. Integrity is being truthful, being loyal, doing the right thing, for yourself and for others. These past few years I have been drifting away from who I am, which is why I'm in the midst of a journey to find myself again. Partially it is spiritual (one of the reasons I went to temple this morning, I am making a real effort to be more involved on a regular basis). And it's also physical. After being a gym junkie for several years and being in the best physical shape I'd ever been in, I didn't just slide, I fell hard. So, I am starting to reclaim my body. Shoveling two feet of snow last week reminded me of how good it feels to use your muscles (as well as reminding me of how bad you feel when you're out-of-shape). In 2011, I will work on re-centering myself, because you can't be true to others if you're not true to yourself.

Joy: the world has become a very scary place, but if you always dwell on that it can overwhelm you. I know that life isn't always fun. But that doesn't mean you can't enjoy what you're doing. I have become better at letting things go, not always having to fight the good fight. But I need to do that more, to look for the good in things and people. And I can help bring more joy to other people, particularly my family. In 2011, I will remember to enjoy what I'm doing, to look for the silver linings, and to try to bring joy to others.

Having taken these three words on as my guide for 2011 and, just as importantly, putting them out there, I have made a commitment. I will follow-up throughout the year and let you know how I'm doing. In the meantime, have you chosen your three words?