Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Phonics

"I like stickers because I really love them. Bye bye. See you later."

Yup. I guess this is what you should expect in the very early stages of learning how to read and write using the phonics approach. This methodology has been adopted by primary schools in the UK for teaching kids basic literacy skills. Since children learn the letters of the alphabet not by their name but by their sound, spelling becomes a phonetic interpretation ...

I must confess that I am still a bit ceptical about all this ...

The MMR jab

Clara took her MMR booster jab today (vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella). It hurt a bit and she cried but when it was over the nurse gave her a Twix bar and told me that she won't need any more jabs until she's in her teens.

The MMR jab has been shrouded in controversy since a study came out in 1998 claiming that it could be implicated in autism. Not-so-good media coverage at the time led to many alarmed parents deciding not to immunize their kids, with all the very serious individual and public health risks that this entails. In spite of the health sector's efforts to publicize that extensive and indepth investigations of this allegation have unanimously concluded that there is no link between the MMR vaccine and autism, some of the uneasy feeling about it still lingers on.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The hours

SalvadorDali-The-Persistence-of-Memory-1931

Painting by Salvador Dali - The persistance of memory - 1931

The hours drag by
So heavily
Their mantle’s trail
So deep
They will not stop
To render
Either peace or
Good night's sleep

Today's agenda for tomorrow's nightmare

In the spotlight this week:


- The Turner Report addressing the pension crisis


- Domestic nuclear power stations: rethinking energy policy

Pre-Christmas frenzy

I've done most of my Christmas shopping. I know that from now until Christmas I'll be caught up in a frenzy of events barely under control. There will be parties to go to, Christmas cards to send, presents to wrap, Christmas decorations to be unpacked and put up and a bunch of "last minute things". At least this year I won't have to worry about buying food or cooking since we're going back to spend Christmas with our families.

The kids are very excited about being with their grandparents and aunts(who absolutely and unashamedly spoil them, especially at this time of year!). They have been duly assured that Santa Claus will know exactly where they are and will leave their Christmas presents in the right place (but just to be on the safe side, we'll leave a note for him on the kitchen table, where his milk and cookies should have been).

Along with a large suitcase full of presents I'm also taking a couple of boxes with Christmas crackers. Last year everybody loved the very English tradition of pulling crackers during the Christmas Day lunch.

Invented by a London sweet maker in 1846, a cracker is a brightly coloured paper tube, twisted at both ends, which contains a party hat (crown), a riddle and a small toy or other trinket. When it is pulled (by two people) it gives out a bang as its contents are scattered.

Some English Christmas traditions we'll be sorry to miss this year: the Queen's Christmas Message, mince pies, trifle ...

Monday, November 28, 2005

The theme song for today

[ella]
No pido que todos los días sean de sol
No pido que todos los viernes sean de fiesta
Tampoco te pido que vuelvas rogando perdón
Si lloras con los ojos secos
Y hablando de ella.

Ay amor me duele tanto

Me duele tanto

Que te fueras sin decir a donde
Ay amor, fue una tortura perderte.

[el]
Yo se que no he sido un santo
Pero lo puedo arreglar amor

[ella]
No solo de pan vive el hombre
Y no de excusas vivo yo.

[el]
Solo de errores se aprende
Y hoy se que es tuyo mi corazón

[ella]
Mejor te guardas todo eso
A otro perro con ese hueso
Y nos decimos adiós


[el]
Esto es otra vez esto es otra vez no.

[ella]
No puedo pedir que el invierno perdone a un rosal
No puedo pedir a los olmos que entreguen peras
No puedo pedirle lo eterno a un simple mortal
Y andar arrojando a los cerdos miles de perlas


[el]
Ay amor me duele tanto
Me duele tanto
Que no creas más en mis promesas

[ella]
Ay amor es una tortura perderte


[el]
Yo se que no he sido un santo
Pero lo puedo arreglar amor

[ella]
No solo de pan vive el hombre
Y no de excusas vivo yo.

[el]
Solo de errores se aprende
Y hoy se que es tuyo mi corazón

[ella]
Mejor te guardas todo eso
A otro perro con ese hueso
Y nos decimos adiós

[el]
No te bajes, no te rajes
Oye negrita mira, no te rajes
De lunes a viernes tienes mi amor
Déjame el sábado a mi que es mejor
Oye mi negra no me castigues más
Porque allá afuera sin ti no tengo paz
Yo solo soy un hombre arrepentido
Soy como el ave que vuelve a su nido

Yo se que no he sido un santo
y es que no estoy hecho de cartón

[ella]
No solo de pan vive el hombre
Y no de excusas vivo yo.


[el]
Solo de errores se aprende
Y hoy se que es tuyo mi corazón

[ella]
Ay ay ay ay ay
Ay, todo lo que he hecho por ti
Una tortura perderte
Me duele tanto que sea asi
Sigue llorando perdón
Yo... yo no voy
A llorar por ti ...


Shakira y Alejandro Sanz - La Tortura


Sunday, November 27, 2005

Is this moral ?

It came out this week that some NHS trusts in England are refusing to perform certain types of surgery (such as hip and knee replacements) on overweight patients in an attempt to cut down on costs and reduce waiting lists. The reasoning behind this decision is not a clinical one but essentially a financial one: some surgical procedures are more likely to have to be repeated on overweight patients and this leads to more costs and bigger waiting lists. In these NHS trusts, being overweight is seen as a choice and not as an illness and, as such, patients should not have these operations until they are fit ! Since most overweight people cannot loose weight without exercising and you cannot exercise with a hip or a knee that needs replacing, this just means that overweight people are basically being told "You're doomed!".
As binge eating, bulimia and other eating disorders leading to weight problems are serious illnesses that can't be dealt with running solely on will power, I really don't see why you can't have a knee replacement if you are overweight but you can have a liver transplant if you are an alcoholic (like George Best did) or be treated for lung cancer if you are a smoker (or will this cease to be true in the near future?). Where do you draw the line on what illnesses people bring upon themselves by their behavior through life ? Should a person be denied treatment because their illness is seen as avoidable ? There would a lot to say about stress related illnesses ...

Autumn Sunday Lunch

The table is set for an Autumn Sunday lunch.

On the menu: roasted lamb's leg with carrots, peas and potatoes, an all-time favorite. Didn't have time to do the rice pudding ("arroz doce") as promised. Fruit is healthier, anyway.

By the way, I've been trying to do my bit in helping the Portuguese economy by only buying Pera Rocha when I buy pears. This type of pear, canned sardines and Nobre sausages are just about the only Portuguese things you can buy at Tesco's. As we don't like canned sardines nor Nobre sausages we stick with the pears. I wonder if it is because of the likes of us that Portugal now plans to become the "Orchard of Europe" ?!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Went to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with Ana today. It runs for two and a half hours but it is worth it. The special effects are truly spectacular and the movie doesn't have a dull moment. The kids have all grown so much ! Ana loved it and didn't find it too scary (this one does have some pretty frightening scenes and it's not meant to be watched by under 12's; it's the first Harry Potter movie rated PG and not U).
It was a special afternoon out for me and Ana as we seldom have the opportunity to be alone, just the two of us. Before the movie we sat at Costa's Cafe for a while, talking and reading the newspaper (yes, she did read a bit: she managed to find an article defending that having a pet is good for your health). I had an Espresso (a rare indulgence these days) and she had a wafer. We had a good time.
Clara stayed at home with daddy and she built me a beautiful Lego house. As she loved to see her new boots and her drawing in mummy's computer yesterday, I'm also posting her Lego house today.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Me and Clara on top of the World

Snow and boots

Yesterday we were promised snow for today. Lots of snow. Indeed the forecast was so bad that for the first time the girls's school handed out a bulletin listing radio stations and internet sites that would inform parents if the school was closing due to bad weather.

So, yesterday after school I rushed with the kids to a shoe department store to get them some proper warm boots for 20 cm of snow. Not a problem, as far as Ana is concerned. Buying shoes for Clara, however, is always a patience-testing event. She hates trying things on and usually doesn't bother in the least to give me understandable and coherent feedback.

After a nerve-wrecking hour and a half where no boot sized 8, 81/2, 9, 91/2 and 10 was left untried, I ended up - in a fit of despair - buying Clara ... pink boots. Yes, unthinkable pink furry things ! ! !

Today it's bitterly cold but there's no snow. So much for the weather forecast. Clara's boots, however, proved to be a good buy: they were coveted by every girl in her class, much to her joy. A couple of mums appraisingly asked me where I got them. So much for my taste.

Moving

One of the bad things about moving house is that you always seem to loose stuff (and your mind) in the process. Life is usually in shambles for some time after the big event, and you end up only noticing some pretty disturbing disappearances long after you can try to do anything about it. I've been trying all day to find some of my most treasured CD's and despair is setting in. Are they hiding from me in some unsuspecting box ? Did I leave them behind ? Were they stolen ? Did I lend them to someone ? Did I, in a fit of temporary insanity, throw them out with the tons of junk I got rid of while I was packing ? Temporary insanity does tend to occur in the days leading up to the arrival of removal companies. And after.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

How do I love thee ?

lapromessemagritte

Painting by René Magritte , La Promesse, 1928

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,--I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!--and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.


Poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)
"Sonnets from the Portuguese"

Thanksgiving


Today is Thanksgiving Day in America (it's the 4th Thursday of November). Time for family gatherings, roast stuffed turkey basted to perfection, pumpkin pies (I haven't had one of those since I left Ohio, 20 years ago !). I remember it as a heartwarming holiday in tones of gold and orange inspired on the hard work, endurance, and rewarding first harvest of the Pilgrims who in the 17th century went to America fleeing religious persecution in England.

I believe that the vast majority of Americans have a deep felt sense that they have a lot to be thankful for. And they do, really, as do so many others without the honesty to acknowledge it, let alone celebrate it.

Thanksgiving is the time to acknowledge and celebrate all things good.

Today I miss America.
I particularly and keenly miss my parents and sisters. We had four wonderful Thanksgiving Day dinners while we lived in the USA.
We found our reasons to be thankful.

"Romeo, Romeo -- wher4 Rt thou Romeo?"

And so "To be or not to be, that is the question" became "2b? Nt2b?"... A taste of what's to come in here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Plagiarism

This is a great article about plagiarism. Even though I'm inclined to think that until there's an established intellectual property market (terrifying thought !) it will be increasingly difficult to prove the theft of "ideas, research, theories or words" (there are billions of expressed ideas and theories on the internet alone and some are bound to coincide almost word for word), I do believe that students nowadays rely too much on the "copy-paste" technique from the internet. What troubles me even more is that teachers seem to encourage such practice by setting unfeasible deadlines for research work and by not teaching research methods at all. When I was in high school I was taught a formal methodology for doing a research paper, I learned how to quote and extract information from various sources, how to draft theories and argumentation from what I was reading and how to put together a proper formal bibliography. I wouldn't dream of using a source without citing it (at school and at work, that is ...).
It is true that, as is widely known, great minds have fed on the ideas of others to produce great masterpieces ... But they had already earned the privilege of getting away with it, for our own benefit.

Mad life


What meetings would I be rushing to today if I was still working at my old job ? Oh ! Very important meetings, no doubt, where you'd only start getting down to business after at least one hour from the scheduled start time, waiting for everyone to arrive, engaging in small talk, having to listen to stupid jokes or rude gossip, standing by as coffee is served, dealing with those who insist on going on receiving calls on their mobiles... Most probably the meetings would drag on for long after they were due to end, shattering plans and schedules and creating high levels of stress on all those who were supposed to be somewhere else, especially at the end of the day (in itself a very subjective concept in all of my previous jobs). Ah ! I forgot to mention that in the end there were usually no clear conclusions or decisions (most of the time we set out with no clear objectives either so...).
On account of a myriad of such meetings I missed out on innumerable and priceless milestones in my daughters's lives. I remember having to leave Ana at nursery school from 8:30 AM to 7 PM on most days when she was still a baby! I was not there to see her first steps or hear her first words ...
I fought to have more time for Clara when she was a baby and I got it but I ended up loosing all my career prospects at where I was working and I fell into a depression.
What earthshattering emergencies would I be attending to today ? They seemed to come up whenever I most needed time for my daughters ... Countless nights and weekends at work away from home ! What for ? And all those times when my babies were ill and I wasn't the one caring for them at home ... Wasn't mine a mad life ?

Growing pains

Ana misses her best friend in Portugal. She broke down crying after going to bed because she feels that none of her friends here measure up to her "old" best friend in Portugal. She was still sobbing after she fell asleep. It breaks my heart and I wish there was something I could do, but a mum's love can't make growing pains go away...

I bet that tomorrow she'll be alright. She's strong, she has lots of friends and I'm quite proud of what she's already achieved in such a compact life.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Monday, November 21, 2005

The theme song for today


When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary;
When troubles come and my heart burdened be;
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence,
Until you come and sit awhile with me.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up...
To more than I can be.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up...
To more than I can be.

There is no life - no life without its hunger;
Each restless heart beats so imperfectly;
But when you come and I am filled with wonder,
Sometimes, I think I glimpse eternity.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up...
To more than I can be.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up...
To more than I can be.

You raise me up...
To more than I can be.

Daily prayers

...
- Mummy, can I please sleep with you tonight? It's just for tonight, I promise !

...
- Mummy, please, please can I stay home today? I don't want to go to school !

...
- Mummy, I love you so much ! You're the best mummy in the whole world.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Is this for real ?

This was taken from a reader's letter in yesterday's Guardian newspaper:

"We need to buy a turkey for Christmas. [...]. We want it to be a "happy" turkey, ie organically/ ethically raised and slaughtered, if there is such a thing."

This is hysterical !!!!!

Like helloooooo ! If you REALLY want the turkey to be happy DON'T EAT IT !!!! Der!

P.S. I cannot even begin to describe the perplexity I felt a year ago at all the very loud protests about the mass slaughter (murder !) of turkeys for Christmas. I think that I'm begining to grasp that around here you either do not eat turkey during Christmas or if you do you have to make sure the turkey is happy about it ! I guess that for the remainder of the year it's OK for the turkey to be unhappy.

The Nuremberg Trials

On November 20 1945, 60 years ago today, 21 of Nazi Germany's leading figures took the stand to be tried for war-crimes during World War II.

In the Nuremberg Trials, Herman Goering, the Luftwaffe chief, and eleven others were sentenced to death by hanging (which took place on Oct.16 1946 for all but Goering, who committed suicide the day before). Three were sentenced to life, four to prison and the rest were acquitted.

Many of the highest officials of Nazi Germany, including Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, and Heinrich Himmler, had committed suicide before they could be brought to trial.

The court set up by the Allies for the Nuremberg Trials in the aftermath of WWII is the foundation stone for the permanent International Criminal Court that exists today in The Hague to try those accused of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.

Friday, November 18, 2005

A long time ago, not in a far away land ...

This picture of my father and me was taken by my mother 38 years ago at my parents's first home in Cranfield, 10 miles from here. Who would have thought that after 37 years away, I'd come back to to live where I was born !

Thursday, November 17, 2005

An unfortunate event

Yesterday I got a call from school. Clara had fallen in the playground and they suspected she might have broken the little finger on her right-hand. I confess that every time I'm phoned about something bad having happened to either of the girls my first reaction is to panic and imagine the worse. Fortunately I'm also always quick at pulling myself together so that I can properly deal with the situation.

I went to pick Clara up from school and took her to the hospital (it was the first time I went there since moving here from Portugal 18 months ago). She was seen right away, her finger was x-rayed and it turned out she hadn't broken any bones. She did have a bad sprain, though, and her finger was completely black and blue, swollen and very sore. She came home with it "buddy-taped" to the next finger.

When it was clear that everything was alright, I allowed myself to be amazed at how bravely she had behaved (she did not cry or fuss at all) and at the ease with which she chats-up everyone she meets. She definitely has a winning personality.

On account of this, though, she ended up missing her first disco party at school. Now, that's what really upset her.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Listening to ... Beethoven's 9th Symphony

Beethoven's 9th Symphony never fails to send shivers down my spine. It also lifts my spirits immensely when I'm down. It is absolutely amazing that such an exquisite masterpiece was composed after Beethoven became completely deaf ! Can such genius still exist among mankind or is a thing of the past ?

Christmas Shopping

The Christmas shopping season has started. I must confess that absolutely I dread it. You always have so many people to consider on your shopping list that you can't possibly spend much money on each one and you end up spending a fortune buying a myriad of small things that in the end no one really wants. You go around spreading junk and collecting junk with a big smile on your face. I think that this, in this day and age when pollution and poverty are such huge and appalling problems, is just completely immoral. The problem is that even though most sensible people agree on this, they, or most of them, still keep to the old habit of buying everyone a present for tradition's sake and in the name of Christmas Spirit. The way I see it, the savage consumerism that characterizes Christmas nowadays has nothing to do with Christmas Spirit. In the end, it's just that you feel guilty if you get a present from someone you didn't buy something for and so you keep on buying.

Kids should get a FEW presents. Sensible ones. Adults should just go without.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

On my reading list

Paul Auster is one of my favorite authors. His 12th novel, The Brooklyn Follies, just came out. Definitely on my reading list.

Also on my immediate reading list: The Shadow Of The Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down.

Yesterday's newspaper

There was a curious bit of research in yesterday's Guardian about the London Cage (three mansions in Kensington Palace Gardens, in London, where Germans were tortured during and after WWII). Worth reading as we tend to think that evil is only the work of others ...

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Saturday

My Saturday was mostly unremarkable but it still had a few highlights: my husband did the cooking and I had my hair done by my 5 year-old daughter while we were watching Strictly Come Dancing on BBC1.

"Strictly Come Dancing" is the only show on TV that the four of us watch together and also the only one that the kids are allowed to watch after supper.

TV is not a big part of our free time (and there are no TV's in the bedrooms). As a matter of fact, right now the only programme my husband and I really like to watch on television is QI. Occasionally there are interesting documentaries or good adaptations of classic novels (such as the new BBC drama series based on Charles Dickens's Bleak House) that deserve our attention, but generally we find that most stuff on TV is just not worth watching. There are better things to do when you have so little free time.
The kids usually watch a bit of Nick Jr after school but nothing that's out of control.

Good morning !

Wake up and smell the coffee (and the fresh toast, if you're really lucky) !

Funny how kids never want to get out of bed on school days but are up with the first rays of light on weekends ...

Really, really nice surprise last Saturday: they presented me with a wonderful breakfast in bed !

Great kids !!!

No such luck today, though.

Friday, November 11, 2005

The end of the day

It's so quiet and peaceful after everybody has gone to bed. I finally have some time for myself. Pity I'm just too tired to do anything. I'm making some plans, though ... Bits and pieces are taking shape inside my head, asking to come alive. Wonder what will come of it.

Remembrance Day

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, the guns fell silent in Europe and the The Great War (WWI) came to an end. Four ferocious years of fighting had destroyed an entire generation. The scale of its destruction was such that it was called "the war to end all wars".

Hearing or reading the stories told by the survivors about themselves and about those who died helps put a face and a name, a tragic and personal human dimension, on the catastrophe (as the impressive Holocaust Memorial in Paris so poignantly does).

This day is commemorated all over Europe and in a lot of other countries around the world that were involved in WWI. Armistice Day. It saddens me a bit to notice that in my home country, Portugal, where more than 8 000 soldiers died fighting in this terrible war, no one even speaks of the day or of its meaning.


Remember

Windy Autumn day

Views from my window...

It's cold and windy outside. Warm and cozy inside.

I feel like spending the afternoon reading a book and listening to good music.

If only I could ! But I have to pick up the kids from school in less than twenty minutes. The rest of "my" day is all about them.

The two stars around which my universe revolves.



A dream within a dream

René Magritte, La Clé des Champs, 1936

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow--
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone ?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand--
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep--while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

Poem by Edgar Allan Poe - 1827

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The theme song for today


When you try your best but you don't succeed
When you get what you want but not what you need
When you feel so tired but you can't sleep
Stuck in reverse

And the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can't replace
When you love someone but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

And high up above or down below
When you're too in love to let it go
But if you never try you'll never know
Just what you're worth

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

Tears stream down on your face
When you lose something you cannot replace
Tears stream down your face
And I

Tears stream down on your face
I promise you I will learn from my mistakes
Tears stream down your face
And I

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you.

"Fix You" by Coldplay

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Lisbon Earthquake


On the 1st of November 1755, a little after 9:20 AM, Lisbon, the capital of the Portuguese Empire, was shaken during nine whole minutes by one of the most violent earthquakes on record (8.7 magnitude on the Richter scale). Most of the city was destroyed either by the quake itself, by the great fire that followed it or by the tsunami that hit it shortly after. Between 60,000 and 100,000 people died.


This devastating event led to a number of important philosophical and theological discussions in Europe, but its effects in Portugal were truly devastating and can still be felt today, to some extent.

250 years later, the New York Times ran an editorial on the Lisbon Earthquake, Portugal's leading daily newspaper, Público, compiled an interesting dossier on it, and there's a new Portuguese blog dedicated to this theme.