Daily Post: What would you do to survive?

The prompt for today was to read the story of Richard Parker and Tom Dudley. Is what Dudley did defensible? What would you have done?

There are many stories of people in desperate situations resorting to cannibalism to survive. An Argentinean rugby team crashed in the Andes in the 1970s, and there were two books written about their experience, followed by a movie based on one of these accounts. The Donner Party is another famous case, in which a group of pioneers was crossing the Rockies and became stranded in winter.

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I always read these accounts with a somewhat gruesome fascination. It is difficult to say what one would really do to survive in such situations, without it actually happening. In each of these cases, including the Richard Parker and Tom Dudley case, the decision to eat another human being is understandable when one considers the alternative. The difference, however, is that Richard Parker wasn’t actually dead when Dudley and Stephens decided to make him the sacrificial victim. They had already discussed having one of the four be sacrificed for the other, and from their point of view, it did make sense to choose the one closest to death, or least likely to survive. In desperate circumstances, “survival of the fittest” reigns supreme.

Possibly Parker would have come out of the coma and survived, but in the moment, he was the one who was easiest and most justifiable to kill. In different circumstances – such as if the others had sufficient food and water – his life might have been spared. Harsh as it might seem, I agree with the difficult decision they were forced to make. It is not a decision that anyone would want to make or a situation anyone would choose to face. Would it have been better to refuse to consider cannibalism and face almost certain death of all four by starvation and thirst? It was either the survival of three at the expense of one, or the death of all four.

Daily prompt (1/22): Mastering the skill of organization

Today’s prompt is: If you could choose to be a master (or mistress) of any skill in the world, which skill would you pick?

Executive functioning: Organization, managing multiple tasks either simultaneously or one after another without getting distracted, keeping my house neat, remembering to do stuff. Basically, I would like to NOT have ADHD, or at least be able to take stimulant medications to improve these symptoms.

It has been very difficult pursuing a career in teaching with poor executive functioning skills. I have managed to last 10 years (and now hanging on by a thread) due to other skills I do possess (and feel blessed to have them): excellent language skills, especially the fact that I speak Spanish (also Portuguese, but not so important where I live) and have ESL/bilingual certification.

However, rarely do I last more than one year in a teaching job, especially classroom teaching. I do much better with small groups or individuals where management of strict routines and structures is not as important. Working with smaller groups allows me to shine in the aspects of teaching that are important, but not noticed or considered a priority by many administrators: compassion and caring for each and every student, and problem solving to help them. This is why most of my students – and their parents – like me and feel comfortable in my class. I work very hard (harder than most, probably), trying to keep up with colleagues whose executive functioning skills are fully intact and taken for granted.

(These pictures show a project that I did with different groups of students for Day of the Dead, depicting scenes of skeletons enjoying themselves.)

Every spring after I lose whatever job I have once again, I consider leaving the field of education altogether. Yet every fall, I’m back in a new teaching job. I can’t tell an administrator that I have ADHD, and usually they never find out. Each and every time I try again to be organized, have consistent routines, manage a group of 20 or more kids. It usually works for awhile, and I feel encouraged by that, thinking I have finally mastered the skill of organization well enough to succeed this time.

But it never lasts. My ADHD gets the better of me, especially as I become tired from working so hard as the school year progresses. Then, because  I changed careers to go into teaching in middle age before I was diagnosed, I regret having been so hasty in pursuing this career. It would be hard for me to do something else at this point though. I really do love education and working with children. And I need medical insurance, so I have to keep working until I can retire.

I wish I lacked a skill that I could master, that someone could teach me. I’m a lot better at teaching than I used to be and can anticipate some of the pitfalls before they happen. Yet maintaining a consistent level of executive functioning is not only impossible for me, it isn’t something I can be “taught.” I can get better, perhaps, at using coping mechanisms – which I have done – but I will never be able to compete with those hyper-focused, super-organized colleagues out there.

Surgery and rehab (Post-a-day Jan. 6)

The prompt is: What’s the most time you’ve ever spent apart from your favorite person? Tell us about it.

My favorite person, I guess I’d have to say, is my husband, Dale. Last January, he went into the hospital for knee replacement surgery. The surgery was on Jan. 4 (to coincide with my winter break!) and I visited him, of course, every day in the hospital until his discharge on Jan. 7.   He took his furry companion, a blue teddy bear named “Harry” (after Harry Hanukkah), with him to keep him company. I had purchased this bear for him back in 1997 when he had to have cancer surgery. It was December and the gift shop was selling lots of holiday items. Harry wasn’t specifically for the holiday, but his color – blue, the “official” color of the Jewish 8-day celebration of Hanukkah – was just right for my Jewish husband. Harry has been a trusted companion ever since, when he has had to be hospitalized or undergo a procedure that keeps him in bed (or even when he’s bedridden at home!).

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I have no such companion, and while Dale was in the hospital, I slept in the middle of our queen-sized bed. Our mattress sags a bit on the sides of the bed where we normally sleep, but right in the middle, there is a slight hump. Whenever he is gone, I sleep on it to even it out with the rest of the bed!

My husband had a nice large hospital room to himself, with a view of the surrounding neighborhood from a large window. Although he couldn’t get up to see the view (they did have him walking in the halls by the second day, with assistance), he could see the beautiful sunsets that displayed strips of orange, pink and red at 4:30 in the afternoon. During the day, when I looked out the window, I could see a golf course across the street. We had no snow and temperatures were somewhat mild, in the 40s, unusual for that time of year, so of course, there were those fanatic golfers who were brave enough to bear wind chills in the lower 30s to be out on the course.

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Often in past years, Dale has taken golf trips in the spring with some buddies, and I usually enjoy the time alone. However, he’s never gone for more than a week. The longest we’d been apart prior to last winter was when my son and I went with a college group to Costa Rica in the summer of 2004, for five weeks. And never again did my husband let me take a long trip without him!!

This separation was to be a full month, even though I could visit him every day. From the hospital, he went into a rehab center. Many insurance policies allow you to stay in such places after knee replacement surgery for 11-14 days maximum. However, in my husband’s case, he stayed for four weeks! There were two reasons for this: first, he’s on Medicare and their policies allow you to stay longer, and second, he had a slower recovery than was expected and could not be alone at home, since I work full-time and our house has three floors! Being an old house, it also has some small or weirdly shaped rooms which are hard for a person with a walker or cane to negotiate.

It being January, I would return from work and drive directly to the rehab center hoping I’d be able to find a parking place, and one that was close to the door if it was really cold outside. There were days in which commitments kept me away altogether. But usually I did go, at least for a short visit. Sometimes I’d have dinner with him, and they always brought me a free meal.

It got tedious to do this, after awhile. I admit that I sometimes could not think of anything to talk about! He had a little notebook next to his bed, a freebie in all the rooms at the rehab center, and each day, I tried to write an uplifting message or something funny. There were also weekly newsletters which had crossword puzzles that we would do together.

Harry was always on or next to his bed, or occasionally on the “swing” – a bar above the bed that was for traction! Dale didn’t have traction, fortunately for him, but he did have a machine that he had to use a couple of times each day, which would bend and flex his leg. At first, this machine really hurt because it forced him to bend his knee farther than he could without pain. Physical therapists took him daily to the therapy center where he did a variety of exercises, and they even had a cut-off front of a typical car, for patients to practice getting in and out of the passenger seat! He also had to do a daily 4-step staircase in the therapy room, to prepare him for stairs when he came home.

After about a week of him being in the rehab center, it started to get lonelier for me to be without him at home. It was a good time to take stock of all the things he normally does around the house, including reminding me to charge my phone, make shopping lists, etc. My husband also does the laundry every week – it’s easier for him, because his computer is in a small room next to the laundry room in the basement, and most of the cooking, I must confess. This all started when I was so busy with teaching that I had no time to do housework. Last year, that was not the case, but I had by then realized that he doesn’t clean up very well after cooking, so we fell into the routine of him cooking and my cleaning up afterward.

My son was living at home at that time, and while his dad was in the hospital, he got fired from his job for being late to work on New Year’s Day! He went into a funk and was pretty much useless except when I implored him to take out the garbage or do some heavy work in Dale’s absence. He hardly stayed at home, hanging out with friends, drinking, smoking, (including pot), then coming home in the early morning and sleeping all day. I started having very simple meals, because there was no point in cooking for one, since my son preferred energy drinks and fast food to a home cooked meal. I would make a sandwich, fry an egg, or throw a salad together. I’d then eat on a portable table in front of the TV and watch all the shows I had previously recorded. I got lazy and didn’t write much even though I had the time. I also didn’t do any organizational projects I’d had in mind to do.

When Dale got stronger, I occasionally took him out for dinner. The first time I did this, we went to the restaurant right next door to the rehab center – in fact, the restaurant’s parking lot served as overflow when there were no open parking spaces at the rehab center. I wheeled him over there in a wheelchair. It was so exciting – like a fancy night out, even though it was just a rather conventional family restaurant in town! The rehab center also hosted weekly Weight Watcher meetings, and we attended one of them. My husband even had someone support him so he could stand on the scale! He joked about weighing more due to his new metal knee!

Napping with Harry in rehab center
Napping with Harry in rehab center

Sometimes our daughter came in on the weekend, as she does often, to do her laundry at our house, then we’d go over to the rehab center and have dinner with him. On one of these occasions, a friend of mine had the idea of bringing over a Scrabble game. Our daughter likes Scrabble well enough, so we agreed to all join in a game.

Unfortunately, this didn’t work out very well. Our daughter was losing and put down a word she must have known was incorrect, but insisted she didn’t. The location of the word would have given her a triple word score. My friend of course challenged it, and I was willing to let her put down another word, but my friend said that the rules state that the loser of a challenge loses her turn. This made my daughter angry and animosity settled over the table between my daughter and my friend. I was caught in the middle, trying to gently defend each of them in turn, and feeling responsible for agreeing to the scheme in the first place. Eventually our daughter quit and therefore, so did her dad, since he really wanted to spend time with her.

My friend called our daughter a “poor sport” and while I tried to continue the game with just the two of us, I struggled to maintain objectivity. I realized my friend was very rigid in some ways, which was very annoying because I felt it was unnecessary. I was upset that she had sort of spoiled our afternoon, as an interloper, coming between me and my family. I actually avoided her for a couple of months after that, but now we are good friends again. I try to overlook her shortcomings, annoying as they are, because God knows, I have plenty of shortcomings of my own!

As for our son, he could only be prevailed upon to visit the rehab center one time, and that was only with much nagging on my part. However, after that first visit, he actually did something really nice: one morning, he actually got up early enough to “surprise” his dad with hot coffee from Starbucks! (The coffee at the rehab center was really weak and my husband missed good coffee so much). For our son, that was a lot, and I thought of it as sort of a redemption, but my husband wasn’t so ready to completely forgive him, even though he did appreciate the surprise visit and the coffee.

Day after homecoming! Relaxing in his "snuggie" (A Christmas present)
Day after homecoming! Relaxing in his “snuggie” (A Christmas present)

February 5 was homecoming day! It was a Sunday and I had straightened up the house as much as possible to make life easier for him. By that time, he was no longer using a walker, just a cane, and could go up and down stairs very slowly, one step at a time. He was lucky that the hospital that had done the surgery provided home physical therapists for patients after they returned home. They actually encouraged patients to return home directly after the surgery, but in our case, that was impossible. I had to work and our son could not be depended upon to take on the job of really taking care of his dad. So a physical therapist, that Dale humorously called his “torturer”, came a couple of times a week, then once a week, and after a few weeks, when she could measure the bend of his knee at 90°, she finished her work with him.

Dale couldn’t drive until March, but when he could, he began driving to a physical therapy rehab facility, Athletico, and continued physical therapy for another six weeks.

His joke (which he repeats ad nauseum to anyone who will listen) about this whole ordeal is that, when he scheduled the surgery in early January, he figured he’d be healed enough to be out on the golf course by the time golf season started in April, but last year we had an early spring, with temperatures in the 80s in the first half of March – so he missed the beginning of the golf season after all!

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Post-a-day: I thought I’d never come back from that one!

O’Hare Airport, age 16

I was on my way home from school, landing at O’Hare Airport, where my brother was supposed to meet me. Dressed in a striped mini-dress, I was overloaded with an expensive camera hanging on a strap over my shoulder and luggage surrounding me. My sister’s family lives near the airport, and usually family members prefer to pick someone up at O’Hare outside the baggage terminal exit, making for easy pick-up and not having to park the car. But I didn’t see how I could lug all the stuff outside and besides, I noticed a creepy man standing at the door.

I sat down for a minute to think and then realized the creepy man was staring at me with an intense and ominous expression. He looked Hispanic, was somewhat stocky in build and wore dark glasses. At first I thought he was interested in my camera or the money in my purse, and whatever expensive things I might have in my possession, so I pulled my camera, purse and luggage more tightly around me. It soon became clear, however, that he was interested in … me. If I went out that door, I had no doubt he would grab me and then…well, I didn’t want to think about what he’d do with me once he’d kidnapped me.

 

No, going outside to meet my brother was not an option. I looked around me. There were some people around, people picking up their luggage, having their luggage tickets checked as they exited the roped off area. I looked toward the public phone, but it was isolated and dark. I dared not go there. Nervously I looked at my watch – where’s my brother? Most likely circling around the airport, expecting me to emerge. I had to call my family, but how?

 

I moved around to see what he would do – his eyes followed me. I went over to the airport official checking the luggage and told him about the man at the exit. He said he would keep his eye on him, but I could tell he didn’t really think there was any danger.

 

However, because I had talked to the airport employee, the man called over a companion to keep watch on me for awhile. This was a tall black man. I told the official that now a different man was watching me and by that time, I’m sure he thought I was a totally wacko teenager. Probably thought I was “asking for it” due to my mini-dress. However, he did agree to watch my luggage, which I moved inside the roped off area. The only safe place I could go at this point would be upstairs. I had in mind to go up there and couldn’t leave my luggage unattended.

 

Within a couple of minutes, the stocky man with the  dark glasses returned. When he turned to talk to his companion for a minute, I got up and ran to the escalator. People closed around me. I thought of looking for a pay phone but didn’t see anything around there. I sat down in a seat in a corner and felt safe in the throng of people.

 

Suddenly my flesh crawled: the stocky man had come upstairs looking for me! He didn’t see me sitting in the corner, and I saw him looking around in the crowd. Searching for me! I was terrified, but since he didn’t see me, I slipped back to the escalator and went back downstairs. If he’s gone long enough, I thought, I would be able to call my brother from the pay phone there.

 

Suddenly there  he was, coming down the escalator, his penetrating stare fixed on me. He returned to his spot at the door, never taking his eyes off me, and it was clear that I couldn’t leave. Fear overwhelmed me – I was trapped!

 

It had been a long time, or seemed that way. I checked my watch again. 45 minutes had passed since I’d called my brother from the pay phone near the arrival area! Where was he? When was he going to realize I wasn’t going to come outside? I closed my eyes and willed him with all my might to come inside, to find me, rescue me.

 

Then I recognized a booming voice yelling, “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?” I had never in my life been so relieved to see my brother.

 

And just as quickly, the creepy man vanished. I ran over to my brother, shaking, and told him what had happened. Of course, since the man had gone, I wasn’t able to really show him the danger I was in. We went over to my luggage, which was still there, but there was no sign of the airport official who had supposedly been guarding it.

 

Safety and relief washed over me. I had imagined all the horrible scenarios that could have happened if the man had kidnapped me. Gagged, blindfolded, thrown into the back seat of a car or maybe even the trunk. Drugged, forced into prostitution. There was no end to my fears. But finally I was ensconced safely in the comfortable passenger seat of my brother’s car, jazz music playing on the radio.

 

In spite of my explanation, I don’t think my brother truly believed me – I’m sure he thought I was exaggerating, that my imagination was running wild. However, to this day, that experience was the scariest I’ve ever had in my life. I can still see that man’s face – I will never forget it. I thought I’d never come back from that one!

Post-a-day (12/30) prompt: Childhood

The prompt today is: Write page three of your autobiography.

During the years in which I was between six and twelve years old, I continued developing my nascent creative interests in drawing, writing and using my imagination. Social relationships were extremely important to me, as well as difficult to secure. Most of my friends were the other children who lived in my neighborhood.

My nearsightedness worsened slowly throughout this period and I began to wear glasses all the time in elementary school. Because I was not very coordinated, I did not do well in sports, particularly competitive sports. I therefore did not like sports very much nor being forced to participate in them, which was a source of humiliation. The only sport I was pretty at was swimming, and I took lessons every summer. When I was about seven, I took ballet lessons at a private dance school. In spite of my poor balance and klutziness, I loved dancing and after I had learned some steps, I taught them to my neighborhood friends. There is a home movie taken by my father showing me and my friends giving a “recital” in the front yard. I would demonstrate the dance step over and over across our front lawn, then one by one each little girl would take her turn across the lawn. I was only the expert in ballet because my neighborhood friends did not take ballet lessons! However, I loved being the center of attention and being the leader in other games as well. When we played school, I was always the teacher. It made this girl with low self-esteem feel important.

I did not lack in exercise, in spite of my lack of athleticism. My friends and I played in the woods behind my house, running up and down the hills, climbing trees, playing make believe games. In the winter, we went sledding on a nearby hill and ice-skating at a local park.

By second grade, I continued to enjoy drawing and now began using written language as a creative activity, writing and illustrating story books. I was imaginative and made up stories all the time. When I wasn’t writing them down, I would use my Barbie-sized dolls to act them out – I had a whole “family” of dolls and furniture which I put on my shelves to make rooms in a house for them. As I grew older, my doll stories grew more complex – Barbie had a boyfriend, or she was distraught because he broke up with her or went away for the summer. Good gifts for me were crayons, pencils, pens and paper.

By the age of twelve or thirteen, I was reading books from our family library. The first one that interested me was called Being Born. My friends and I would page through it and look at the pictures. We giggled with embarrassment at the anatomical drawings of female and male reproductive organs and the development of the embryo.

With the backdrop of race riots in cities across America in the mid ‘60s, I began reading about the issues of prejudice, racism and injustice. I loved The Diary of Ann Frank and couldn’t get over the shock of realizing she died in a concentration camp at the age of 16, only because she was Jewish. At school, I devoured certain required books, such as Animal Farm (I read it in one day) and To Kill a Mockingbird (which I read in three days). At my aunt and uncle’s house, I found Manchild in the Promised Land, which I took home to read. These books took place in a world that was totally alien to me in my white small-town universe.

Post-a-day (12/29) prompt: Faith

The prompt is: Tell us about the role that faith plays in your life — or doesn’t.

My faith has gone through several permutations. I’ve gone through periods in which I didn’t attend church nor think much about religion, but I did realize I needed a spiritual outlet. I am constantly evaluating and reexamining my faith in God and that which I have been taught in the non-dogmatic Christian church in which I was raised (First Congregational UCC).

On a scale of 0-10, with 0 being atheist, 1 being non-religious and 10 being super-religious to the point of fanaticism, I rate about a 5. I do not take the Bible literally. The stories it contains are mostly allegories and lessons, whose meaning must be unlocked by the reader, sometimes with the help of a clergy or study group. Sometimes I question what God really is, while other times I observe “God moments” when something happens that is meant to be, or is a small miracle.

Faith is a challenge, one has to find spirituality within oneself and within that lies faith. Faith is something we cannot prove, and therefore, it must be experienced or strongly felt by each individual in order to survive. I do not see a contradiction between science and spirituality or faith, in fact the two complement and inform each other. There is scientific evidence for a variety of spiritual experiences and beliefs. I envy some people their spiritual experiences, because I have never had a transcendental experience.

Therefore, my faith is developing and I seek to explore my inner spirituality more deeply through meditation and by looking at things in a new way. Right now I am comfortable with the church I attend, its tenets and mission, because I have the freedom to looking for God, and spirituality, in a variety of ways.

Post-a-day (Dec. 8) – My first memory

The prompt for December 8 was:
What is your earliest memory? Describe it in detail, and tell us why you think that experience was the one to stick with you.

I think my earliest memory was of nursery school (what preschool was called in those days). It was my first taste of what I considered injustice. The strength of my emotion – especially embarrassment – is why I remember it.

I had the habit of imitating other children, especially those I admired. This habit got me into trouble sometimes. The teacher was reading a story. At the end of the story, one of the little girls sitting in front of me clapped one time. The teacher told her not to do that, but in the next moment – I couldn’t help myself, I just had to do it too – CLAP!

My punishment was not just a simple talking to. I had to go sit in a corner with my face toward the wall, isolated from the rest of the class. I was mortified! Embarrassed, mad, upset about getting dirty from sitting on the bare floor in my dress, and a little scared, too, because right in front of me was a spider web and in the web was the spider! I didn’t recoil, though, or shout out. I watched it for a minute or two. The spider was still constructing her web – the thread trailed behind her as her feet stepped delicately on the thin strands in front of her. Since then, I have never been afraid of spiders.

I don’t know how long they made me sit there. I only remember how unfair I thought it was that the other little girl clapped and didn’t get punished, but I did. Perhaps there were extenuating circumstances – perhaps that was the only thing she did wrong all day, while I had received several warnings and scoldings. I had trouble letting go of an emotion, but I think what calmed me down that day was watching the spider spin her web.

Post-a-day (Dec. 24) – Interview with an ornament

The prompt was to write an interview with an inanimate object. I am a few days late getting to this, because I’ve been so busy with the holiday! But today I had time for some fun, so here goes:

Reporter: Welcome to our show, Interview of the Week! Now that the Christmas tree has been put up and decorated with all the ornaments, KLB News has chosen one of the ornaments as the tree’s Most Beautiful Ornament 2012.

(Ooohs and aaahs, and a few grumbles, can be heard all around the Christmas tree).

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Reporter: How does it feel to be chosen the Most Beautiful Ornament of 2012?

IMAG0111Ornament: Well, I think there are a lot of beautiful ornaments on this tree, and any of them could have been chosen as the most beautiful.

Reporter: Indeed, it was a difficult choice with so much competition! Even so, are you enjoying being singled out?

Ornament: Well, I have always been happy to do my job for a few weeks each year, adding beauty to this family’s living room, but I consider it a team effort. What about Most Sentimental Ornament? Or Funniest Ornament? Or …

Reporter: Those are great categories for future ornament competitions.  Tell our viewers a little more about your life.

Ornament: Well, I was purchased by the human female of this house a few years ago. She was delighted to add me to the tree. I enjoyed adorning the tree and getting to know a whole lot of new people – er – ornaments, that is! Each of us is unique yet we all have something in common: to add beauty to this Christmas tree and this family’s life for about three weeks a year. This family doesn’t put their tree up early; they usually don’t get around to it until about a week before Christmas. They are busy, you know.

Reporter: How do you feel when you are taken off the tree and put away?

Ornament: Sad, very sad. My box is very comfortable, but I am alone in it and don’t have a chance to chat with my fellow ornaments. Mostly I sleep, which is what ornaments are supposed to do when they are not being used.

Reporter: Where does your family store you?

Ornament: I have my own little box that is put inside a large bin with a bunch of other ornaments. The bin, like all the Christmas decorations in this house, are stored in the basement, in a little room that is quite cold. It’s better than it used to be, though. Some of the ornaments were destroyed when the family stored us in cardboard boxes. Mice got into the storage area and chewed on some of the ornaments! The plastic bins have firm-fitting lids so that never happens anymore.

Reporter: Do you like hanging on an artificial tree or would you prefer a real tree?

Ornament: Well, I have never experienced adorning a real tree, but many of my fellow ornaments have. They said that the family used to get one every year, but then their kids grew up and they didn’t want to deal with all the fallen pine needles. What they said they liked was the wonderful smell of the pine, of being so close to something alive – er – at least recently alive. I would feel sad, though, to watch the tree slowly die. So fresh when it’s first put up, but then slowly it dries up and its needles become brittle. The ornaments didn’t like that part because the dry needles scratched them.

Reporter: I can imagine. I have seen how the freshly fallen trees dry up in heated homes. When my family put the dried up tree outside, it scratched our arms and face.

Ornament: Didn’t you feel sad when that happened?

Reporter: Yes, I did – but mainly because it meant Christmas was really over and we were going back to our normal routine. Meaning, I had to go back to school!

Ornament: Yes, I always feel sentimental when the holiday season is over. Such a beautiful time! And the time when all of us have the chance to shine in all our glory!

Reporter: And be appreciated.

Ornament: Oh, yes, definitely.

Reporter: Well, thanks for talking to me and congratulations on being selected Most Beautiful Ornament 2012!

Ornament: Thank you, it was my pleasure.

Reporter: And Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all the folks out there. Hope you have enjoyed our show today!

Post-a-day: Living abroad for a year

The prompt was: If you were asked to spend a year living in a different location, where would you choose and why?

Spending a year living elsewhere is something I always dream of, and in fact I have lived abroad before, so this prompt is a bit of a no-brainer for me! Of course I would choose Brazil, which I consider my second home. I speak Portuguese, I have friends there, I know the culture (more or less), I love the food – in other words, I feel comfortable there.

Within Brazil, there are certain areas I would prefer to live. One is Rio, where I have relatives. São Paulo state would be OK too, but not the city of São Paulo.

But my favorite would be Curitiba, farther south. I love that city and its climate. As a fair-skinned North American, I get pegged as a tourist or a foreigner in most areas of Brazil, but in Curitiba, people don’t stare at me or think I’m a tourist because I’m too white. I blend in with the Polish, German and Italian immigrants that settled there a century ago. Also I have dear friends in Curitiba. It is the first Brazilian city I came to know when I spent a summer there in 1971, and I stayed with a family. I have kept in contact with them and know they would welcome and help me in any way.

In the winter, it gets a little cold in Curitiba, though nothing like where I live in the United States. Every couple of decades they may even get a dusting of snow! It feels colder than it really is because people don’t have heat in their homes. It’s too expensive to build a house with heating for just a couple of months a year.

There are beautiful, unusual pine trees in Curitiba and in Paraná state. The scientific name for this tree is “araucaria” but is also known as pinheiro paranaense, because they are native to the state of Parana, of which Curitiba is the capital. Instead of the branches slanting downward to make more or less the shape of a V, the pinheiro paranaense has branches that reach upward, creating the effect of an umbrella turned inside out. These trees are unique and one of my favorite sights in Curitiba.

Pinheiro do ParanáPinheiro do Paraná

"Araucarias" in Curitiba's historical district
“Araucarias” in Curitiba’s historical district

curitiba-garibaldi

Curitiba is a large city of almost 2 million inhabitants, and has the fourth largest economy in Brazil. However, it is very easy to get around due to its integrated public transportation system. In the downtown area, some streets are closed to vehicle traffic, where pedestrians are at leisure to shop, go to a cafe or meet friends. The city also has many beautiful parks.

Partial view of Curitiba's pedestrian mall on Rua das Flores
Partial view of Curitiba’s pedestrian mall on Rua das Flores
You can get just about anywhere in Curitiba using public transportation.
You can get just about anywhere in Curitiba using public transportation.

Curitiba-Biodiversité-urbaine-pacaepinheirosThe animal in the foreground of this picture is a “paca”, a large, peaceful rodent native to South America.

Also, some of the World Cup 2014 games will be played in Curitiba!

curitiba-worldcupposter

Curitiba is definitely a “green” city. Back in the 1970s, a forward thinking mayor, Jaime Lerner, who had studied in the U.S. had a vision for transforming the downtown. As someone who had been to Curitiba before that, and then again after, the transformation was amazing. The efficient bus transportation system, the pedestrian mall, the many parks. Concern for the care of the environment has long been the norm in Curitiba.

If I could spend a year in Curitiba, not only would I be content, but I might seriously consider never coming back home!

Please note none of the pictures above were taken by me. I found them online.