Thursday, December 27, 2012

Readings 2012

  1. A casa dos espíritos, Isabel Allende ***
  2. War horse, Michael Morpurgo ***
  3. Eclipse, Stephenie Meyer ***
  4. Down  under, Bill Bryson ****
  5. Breaking dawn, Stephenie Meyer ****
  6. Room, Emma Donoghue ****
  7. Franny and Zooey, J. D. Salinger **
  8. Um, ninguém e cem mil, Luigi Pirandello ***
  9. Matilda, Roald Dahl ****
  10. Há raposas no parque, Clara Macedo Cabral *
  11. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins *****
  12. The boy in striped pyjamas, John Boyne ****
  13. Catching fire, Suzanne Collins *****
  14. Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins *****
  15. James and the giant peach, Roald Dahl ***
  16. A filha do capitão, José Rodrigues dos Santos ****
  17. The wise man's fear, Patrick Rothfuss *****
  18. North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell ***
  19. Eragon, Christopher Paolini **
  20. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury ***
  21. A pipoca mais doce, Ana Garcia Martins **
  22. Rio das Flores, Miguel Sousa Tavares ****
  23. Eat, pray, love, Elizabeth Gilbert ****
  24. Viagem ao centro da Terra, Júlio Verne ***
  25. The perks of being a wallflower, Stephen Chbosky ***
  26. The five people you meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom **
  27. Is it just me?, Miranda Hart ***
  28. George's marvellous medicine, Roald Dahl ****
  29. Bed, David Whitehouse ***
  30. The light fantastic, Terry Pratchett ****

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Confessions of a book reader # 1

Every time I buy a new book I think to myself that as soon as I finish the book I'm currently reading I'll start on the newly purchased one. Yet, despite my best intentions that seldom, if ever!, happens. That is because by the time I actually finish the current book I've already been sidetracked into picking something else. And once a book goes into "The Pile" it can take ages until I feel inclined to give it a go (mind you, not because I'm not interested in it anymore but because I'm spoiled for choice, always buying them faster than I can read them). And that is why I haven't read Kafka on the shore, even though I bought it in 2006. Or all the countless Penguin Classics. And many, many others that seem to have fallen through the cracks and into book limbo. Sad, but true! Well, at least I have house full of books, and that's always nice. Even if it means I probably won't read them all. Or maybe I will. Fingers crossed!

Autumn. It's here.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Those you've known*

I sometimes feel I'm carrying my dead with me. That the loved ones that are no longer with us are, in fact, still around us wherever we go. Not in a literal sense, more like an emotional presence they stay within us. The way we remember them. We die when our heart stops beating and our body stops breathing, but we cease to be when our loved ones die or forget us. That's when we become random people in old photographs. That's what I've come to believe in ever since I set my eyes on Vergílio Ferreira's books. (And then there's also Mr Pirandello's work taunting me with the thousands of similar versions of the same self, though that's a sequel to this conversation, not to be had today.) But enough with the post-modern philosophy!

My great-aunt died early this year. Today would've been her 85th birthday. Today - for the first time in my life - I have no one to wish happy birthday to. And it feels weird. Wrong, even. It wouldn't be so sad if the family had carried on, but that's the thing about my family; Fate seems determined to have us extinct! Right now, biologically speaking, I'm the only individual capable of breeding (which is a bit of a daunting burden to grow up with), it all narrows down to me and it feels unfair, to grow up so close to extinction. But I digress...

The point is I miss her terribly. I keep picking up the phone only to realize a second later that no one would answer that call. And it comforting to at least feel her with me whenever it happens. To know what she would've said or how she would've handled certain situations I come across in my life. I have her with me and I don't have to let go of that for as long as I breathe. She will be remembered. And if/when I have kids of my own I will point out who she was in old pictures. And they will hear stories of her and know how much she mattered. At least to me.

Monday, September 24, 2012

We are all infinite

So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we'll never know most of them. But even if we don't have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.

The perks of being a wallflower, Stephen Chbosky

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The book of simples

When I was about twelve or thirteen and about to enter another special level of a complicated existence (those first steps into womanhood) my dad - the ever so blunt person that he is - offered me a book about making daily life simpler. Now this book (whose title in English completely eludes me) became a bible to me. I devoured it page after page, again and again. I underlined it and memorised entire sections of it. It had all sorts of cute little ideas to save money and time and appreciate all the blessings in your life, big and small. And to me, prisoner of my own age, it was like looking through a window into my future life, into all the neat ideas I could incorporate into my mature and independent life (once I had one, that is!). I dreamed of following most of the book's suggestions, as soon as I could manage. All of this - it goes without saying - helped me envision a very wise and practical and independent future me (whom I still waiting to become...) and it became a sort of security blanket. It was alright if something happened to make me cry because I had my book and in the future - in a time when life would truly be my own - I would be that person. As soon as I could have my own place the book would be the first thing to be packed. Or so I thought.

Now, more than a year after I've moved in, I've thought about the book for the very first time in a few years. It wasn't the first thing to be packed nor was it even on the second wave of possessions to arrive chez nous. In fact, it's still in my old bedroom in the country I've left behind. And it amazes me that it never even crossed my mind to bring it. I guess I don't really need it anymore. Because I have new ideas and tips of my own and I have someone else to share everything with. I can still be the person who has a box of tissues full of carrier bags in the car or the person who fills the sink with steaming hot water when entertaining (so that the dirty dishes and pots and pans become easier to clean afterwards) and I still want to bring the book over, it's just not my bible anymore. I'm grateful for what it meant for me (a liferaft to keep me from drowing in the sea of my own despair and misery) but I'm also glad that I didn't even think of it during the whole moving in process (and Lord knows there was loads of time for it to pop into my head... over a year of it, in fact!). And maybe I'm closer to the person I've been wanting (and waiting) to become for such a long, long time. And ain't that a happy thought?

Friday, September 07, 2012

One year and good things in store!

Exactly 15 days ago I celebrated my first year since I moved to the UK. As such an important milestone approached (the first of many anniversaries in the UK, or so I hope) I began to look back at the past year and I'm glad to say I'm proud of what I accomplished. True, I could've done a lot more - as indeed I had planned to - but that's the thing about life; you plan and you plan and you plan and sometimes when it's time to actually start living you realize that your carefully laid out plans simply don't apply anymore. You think of all the things you want to accomplish and then you open the door to the outside world and life kicks you in the nuts. I didn't fully realize the impact that being a foreigner would have on me. I thought I would get over it faster. I thought it wouldn't matter that much if I couldn't see in the sun for a few days. I didn't realize my own brother wouldn't recognize me when I finally went back to Portugal. I gathered recipes for weeks before I first left and it never crossed my mind that I wouldn't be able to make them here for lack of certain ingredients. And so it was that even though I had been preparing for the big move for a year I was caught off guard.

And now a year has gone by and even though I'm not exactly where I started, I'm also not as further along as I wanted to be. And that's fine. I needed more time and I'm at peace with it. And now that I'm back I intend to speed up to cruising speed and get on with my future. I've made my resolutions for my second year as a UK resident and I intend to do my best to make every single one of them come true (or as many as I can). I'm on my way to finding a job, even if it's not the dream job yet. I'm losing weight (at long last). And as soon as that can be granted then heaps of other good things will follow. In the meantime I'm finally taking some pleasure in my yoga practices and I've been doing some different readings that have allowed me to have this sort of yogic peacefulness and mindfulness about my life and future. I think I'm somewhere in a pre-bliss state. And I think I'd like to find out more about it. Anyway, folks, good things ahead!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Same meerkat here

Before deciding to move to the UK I used to dance a lot. And sing a lot. And go out a lot. And two years later it all seems like a lifetime ago. People sometimes look at me funny and ask me why have I stopped doing all those things and say I've become a different person. I beg to differ.

To my great joy (and sometimes misfortune) I have been blessed with an eclectic taste, such as it's impossible to feed appropriately with just 24 hour days. This means that I juggle as many hobbies as I can with whatever amount of free time that I have. During my BA I could have it all, granted that I only saved six hours for sleep each night. During my MA I had to drop most of the dance classes and stop going out altogether or risk failing my exams. And now I've moved to a foreign country.

Right now I'm focusing on gathering everything that I need to succeed professionally and as an emigrant. Until I'm satistied on that respect I have no intention of indulging in dancing or singing. Because I won't settle for what I can scrape by right now. Dancing and singing are my fix and if I can't devote myself as I want to now then I'd rather not have it at all and restart in a few years.

And as I mentioned earlier, I don't exactly lack hobbies, so I'm still very entertained. I've devoted most of last year to my love of cinema and my passion for books. Also I've been doing something I've always wanted to but never had a partner for: card games and board games. And I'm loving it. Also there's still the novelty of having our own place, so all in all I feel pretty busy!

I don't think of myself as a different person (that is if you subtract all the madness that comes with being abroad), I'm just trying to adjust to my new country and trying to settle as best I can. I guess what I'm trying to say is that in life you simply can't have everything and if I can't (or rather won't) have my fix and my old hobbies, then I'll choose to be glad for all the other hobbies and things that I can have. And isn't that the wisest, healthiest approach?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Leaving things behind

Being abroad for so long it's to be expected that whenever I come back to Portugal I stock up on things I don't have in my adopted country. In my case Portuguese books, Portuguese movies, Disney movies (because a bunch of them are childhood classics that I watched ferverously in Portuguese), Portuguese cds and some dry goods, such as certain types of stock, cookies or tea. And then there's also my stuff from my old bedroom. Oh and presents given by friends and family. Now, after an entire month back in the old country it's almost time to go back. And with only three days left I'm starting to think about all the things I can (and will have to) leave behind. From all the movies and books and knick-knacks I purchased or was given what is the priority and what can be left on the old shelves. And even though that's not an easy exercise for me, I'm glad to report that I am getting better. Of course when I first weigh my suitcase the next results may prove to be wildly different, but that's another story. Stay tuned, everyone!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

A dream not yet come true

Young women like me have a very similar dream - to have a house of our own (whether to let or buy) that we can decorate to our heart's content. A house spells independence, it means you're living your life on your terms (and budget) and that at the end of the day you have a place to come home to, a place that is yours, that reflects your life style, that is your niche. And it's so heart-warming to see it slowing becoming a functional place and - more importantly - your place. Your furniture, your appliances, your stuff and then all the hundreds of things one has to buy to have a house up and running. To choose the plates, the glasses, the pillows, the shower curtain, the cutlery, the lamps, the duvet cover, the tea towels, etc, etc. Last night I had dinner at a friend's new place. It's only about a third done, but you can already see it's going to look absolutely amazing once she's finished decorating it. And I felt a pang of envy. And I'm ashamed to say I looked back at our place and felt sad it's not as cute and girly and tidy and pretty as I had imagined my own place would be. But then again, if I were to look closer into what my life has turned out to be, I'd see that I'm not meant to have that yet anyway. I have been abroad for only a year, I'm fairly new at my job and I barely have the means to live in a shared place with my boyfriend, let alone start thinking about having my own place and going insane with decorating it until there's nothing left of my savings. With a bit of luck and a lot of hard work in a couple years I'll hopefully be in a position to actively think about getting our own place (where we don't have to have some of the landlord's stuff mingled with ours). Then I'll go bananas with all the cute little things I mentioned in the beginning of the post. In the meantime what I do have is a roof over my head and a boyfriend that I love immensely and who keeps piling his books on the floor to free space on the shelves for my books. And what more can a girl want?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Friday, June 29, 2012

Becoming a Mrs.

This month I went to my first English wedding (well, in truth it was only half-English, but it was on the bride's side, and that's always the side that counts the most!). It was lovely! Great venue, amazing food, everyone was so nice to us, foreign guests, the whole event had a nice flow to it, so it wasn't ever boring and we ended up having a marvelous time. Because it was so far from home and with me still unaccustomed to the English roads and it being raining cats and dogs we decided to spend the night and head home the next day after breakfast. And so it was that, at roughly nine the next morning, we said goodbye to the happy couple, he wearing a t-shirt with "Mr. B." printed on it and she with a "Mrs. B." t-shirt. And it got me thinking.

Now this is something we have ceased to do in my country for a couple of decades now. Before moving to the UK never in my wildest dreams would I consider changing my name if I ever got married. Even now it seems a lot alien to me. Not being the rule in my country (and thus having to willingly choose to go through all the hassle to change it) it would feel like betraying my roots. As if I'd be trying to erase them. Of course you'd have to know  my family to understand where I'm coming from.

You see, in my family, for generations and generations, what happens is that a person gets married and has two kids, a boy and a girl. Once they grow up only one of them gets married and then he/she, in turn, has two kids, a boy and a girl. As so on, and so on. Now in my generation (meaning me and my brother) I'm the only one capable of getting married and having kids. Of course my (potential) kids will bear the father's name, not mine. So I have tried to make my peace with the fact that the family name will die with me. It'd be easier if I was named Silva or Ribeiro or some other common name. But I have never met anyone with the same name (even though I'm sure there are a few out there), so it is a pity to "become extinct".

And it gets my mind thinking what does this really mean? Leaving your maiden name behind and becoming a Mrs. I know it's just how people do things here and probably not much thought comes into it. But still... I don't think I can say anything sensible about the subject, I'm too close to it to actually be able to say anything worth remembering. Once again, I'm still sending my rants and thought into the void.

But I just want to say one more thing. I love my boyfriend to pieces. He has a lovely last name. And I adore his entire family too. If we ever end up getting married I would love to take his name and become part of the clan, officially. A Mrs. Ramalho. But I don't think I could ever do it at the cost of my own family name. I could never cease to be who I already am. For better or for worst, no matter how well or how badly I get along with my relatives, I could never cease to be a Manata.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Dreams do come true, even musical ones

The first time I was went to London was way back in 2007. Being a musical geek a trip to London is the equivalent of dying and going to heaven. The escalators on the tube alone send shivers down my spine with the posters from all the shows. And there's so many that it's simply impossible to choose. Alas, I had too. When you go abroad with a group of friends you can't always have your way. So I used all my powers of persuasion for us to go see The Lord of the Rings - The musical. A lot of people argue that it wasn't the greatest of ideas, but I had done the translation of the behind the scenes documentary and knew I was going to see something great. And above all I was fully aware that it was something that would keep the Drury Lane busy for a few months only (and I was proven right when The Lord of the Rings gave way to Shrek - The musical). I had time for Phantom or Les Miz, but this was a one time only opportunity that I gladly took. Of course it pained me to see the posters of all the musicals I wasn't going to see. And then there was Hairspray. Not that it's one of my favourite musicals (even though it's so adorable), but it had Michael Ball as Edna Turnblad and that was another world of pain to miss. And there and then I told myself that one day I would come back to London (or even as many times as it took) and I would see my fair share of musicals and I would see my favourite actors on stage, Michael Ball being amonst them.

Fast forward almost five years. It's 2012 and I'm proud to say I moved to the UK almost a year ago and am currently living just about two hours away from London. I've been there four times and I've seen three musicals, which may not look like much but it's a lot more than it would've been had I stayed back in Portugal. Spring Awakening, Wicked and - just two nights ago - Sweeney Todd featuring Michael Ball as Sweeney. And with that I feel that I've come full circle. I have grown and changed by leaps and bounds and am now in a position to delight myself on a fairly regular basis with a few of what is to me one of life's great pleasures. Musicals. Right here, so close to my doorstep. And I am happy.

Five stars indeed

Friday, May 25, 2012

There's nothing like a garden

In the old days I used to do a sort of technological detox once a year. In other words, I would grab a handful of books and a few items of clothing and go spend a week or two at my cousins'. They live in a quiet place about 30km from the city centre, in a neighbourhood filled with two-story houses where there is very little do to in terms of entertainment (and that's being kind!). In their house there's no internet and, until very recently, no cable tv, just the 4 channels from the national grid. There I felt completely disconnected from the rest of the world. And that was the point of the whole exercise. Being (or rather feeling that I was) in the middle of nowhere I eventually started to take pleasure from simple things. The birds chirping. The afternoon breeze you could feel sitting on the porch. The quiet. The blissful naps after lunch. And the books, obviously. There I would read to my heart's content all day along, and it was - in a word - heaven.

Now the city girl that I am has moved to a ground floor flat in the suburbs that surround Birmingham. And now that the weather is finally picking up I feel that same serene peace envelop me. I open the windows and hear birds and see squirrels. I take great pleasure in taking my reading chair out in the garden and read in the cool mid-day shadow. I love looking at the little plants we've planted and noticing how much they've grown. And I'm at happy. I step into the garden and I'm happy. I breathe in and I think to myself that I am where I want to be. And what could beat that?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Winter's past, a new season begins

Things seem to be looking up again. I'd like to think that's all because I'm getting more and more accustomed to this country and to my new life, but I'm not really sure that I owe it all to my person. To begin with, the weather seems to be finally picking up, both in terms of brightness and warmth. Mind you, it's progressing in baby steps, slowly but ever more surely. Also, I finally have the tickets for my Summer vacation back in Portugal and that by itself has lifted my spirits to no end.

Then comes my bit. Getting more and more comfortable in the workplace and working more and more every month. Remembering most of my colleagues' names and starting to enjoy the time I spend with them. Driving more and more and starting to relax a bit. Being able to walk about town on autopilot. Feeling better about myself and my relationship. And most of all, feeling that (my personal) Winter is finally past me. The stupor that had me for a while is blessedly lifting and I'm feeling more and more like myself. A new season is before me.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Whenever I listen to this I think of my dad and me. Of this new turn in my life that has turned out to be so bittersweet. I'm sure he's happy I found someone I love so completely and that loves me back just as much. I'm sure he's happy that I decided to invest in a better future in a land that has so much more to offer and where my life will certainly be brighter. I'm sure he's proud I left the nest and am making it on my own. But then I'm also sure that the distance all of this implies is taking its toll. It breaks my heart every time I think of him getting home late every night and not having a soul to talk to. I'm sure it hurts to walk by my empty bedroom every day. And the sudden speed at which all of this happened probably doesn't help either.

I guess it's safe to say that my father took me for granted. I was never what you'd call a wild child. I don't drink, I don't smoke, I never did drugs, I don't like concerts or parties and I never even had a boyfriend. Not that I'm a hermit or anything, I do have friends and go out and have fun. It's just that I never caused much trouble. And most times I did his bidding, even if it ruined my plans.

I was at the end of my MA and, just like with most young adults in Portugal, all things pointed towards me staying at my dad's for a few years more and getting some sort of relatively crappy job that had nothing to do with my MA whatsoever. Even if - a few years later - I decided to move out it would clearly be somewhere within driving distance.

And then the bomb hit. Within two days - how little it takes to change a life - I was in love and making plans to change my life around. Granted, I'd been fiddling with the idea of going abroad for a few years, but never really thought I'd have the guts to actually go through with it. Try and imagine it. You get home after another day's work, just like any other and without any warning - just like that - your daughter tells you she's in love with some guy 11 years older than her that lives 1000 miles away. And in that same breath she adds that within a year she's planning to move in with him and start a life in a foreign country. It can't be easy.

Speaking for myself, I did what I had to do. I love my boyfriend and the distance between us was killing me (and him). Also, professionally I saw nothing back home that was worth staying for. And here there was a country that has fascinated me for most of my life and where I was sure I could be happy. So, for all these reasons, I moved. I don't regret my actions one bit. Sure it pains me being away from my country, my family and my friends. But what I can glimpse ahead is so much bigger and brighter that it makes it all worth it. Even if it is bittersweet. For the both of us.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The list freak

Growing up I spent most of my free time alone. And what's a little girl to do when there's no one around to play with? (And please bear in mind this was the early 90s, so computer games and video games were things unknown to me at the time). Well, in my case the answer was making lists and overall competing with myself. It might sound sad now, but what was I to do at the time? This was the best my seven year-old brain could come up with! So I made lists of everything I could think of. Books. Movies. To-do lists. Christmas presents. How many cafes were there in a certain street. Pretty much anything would do. And then when lists got boring I would race myself with things like naming five movies with Tom Hanks in less than 30 seconds (and, incidentally, this is pretty much how I got to be the little movie whiz some people think I am, by repeatedly testing my memory on the subject for over ten years). And this for me was entertainment. I could do it (and in fact I did) for years, way into my late teens. And of course to this day part of this stuck with me.

Now I'm 26 and I live with my boyfriend. Now, when you live with someone else you start to notice aspects of your own behaviour in a completely different way. You become - at least during the first few months - a bit self-conscious. (And even if you don't, if you behave oddly enough you'll be sure to have it pointed out to you, anyway.) And so it has come to my attention that I'm a bit OCD when it comes to books. I keep counting how many have I read during the current year, how many do I still have to read on the shelves, how many pages do I still have to finish the one I'm reading, how many pages till the next chapter, how many pages I've read so far, and so on, and so on. And honestly, after all these years of list-making frenzy, I think I got off easy. In many aspects of my life I'm lucky I didn't turn up to be as troubled as I could've been, considering all I've been through. Still, I understand that to someone unaware of my previous history I might seem like a freak. More than that, I might look like a mixture of Leonardo DiCaprio at the end of The Aviator, Miko Hughes in Mercury Rising and Steve Buscemi in Con Air. Put them all together and it's a pretty creepy result, I must say. Still, I don't really care much. This is the way I am, I've worked hard to keep it all down to a few freaky behaviours. So, when I'm counting pages or making lists just look the other way. I'm not hurting anyone by doing it, and I see no point in changing myself just to the amusement of others.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Recipes with love

When I moved to the UK I decided to forget the majority of my recipes and start fresh. Trying to recreate my Portuguese recipes proved to be very hard when there was always at least one ingredient or utensil that I couldn't find. So I started to rely on my boyfriends recipes and on whatever I could think of doing with the local produce. Then came the cooking classes and pretty soon I was set! I had a comfortable amount of recipes that I could easily make, enough to allow a variety of dishes throughout the week.

After a while had passed I started to succeed in my attempts of replicating my local cuisine. I wasn't the confused person who had just moved in. I knew my way around now! I knew how to work with what I had. As it is with many things in life, the trick is to start small and not think too much about it. The big traditional recipes are still off limits, for the simple reason that - alas! - there are still a lot of ingredients missing. Now I found something better and far simpler. I collect recipes from the people I love. And I can't help thinking of them from start to finish. I think of his parents when I make salmon with orange sauce. I smile whenever I make the pear milkshake I learnt from S. Out of all the different ways to make spaghetti bolognese I always make it the way L. used to make it ever since I was a kid. And it warms my heart and my day. Because I feel them closer, and it helps to shorten the distance. And it's a piece of home brought to my new home.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

No more almonds for Easter

Every Easter I remember her. My grandma. It pains me to talk about how I miss her because, truth be told, I never really paid her much attention when she was living. Granted, there were reasons for it. But still. It sounds a little fake when I say I miss her. But it's the honest truth. I do. And I always miss her the most around Easter. As she got older my grandma had trouble moving about, her joints and bones ached constantly and she got tired after a few steps. She had a heart condition. And yet every year she found the strength to drag herself downtown to Chiado to Manuel Tavares, Lda (one of the oldest cafes in Chiado, opened 152 years ago), just to buy a few packs of Easter almonds. One for me, one for my brother and another for L. Year after year she never failed. And it saddens me that this year there'll be no Easter almonds. Not for the almonds, mind you. I miss her. I miss seeing her sitting by the lift talking to L. waiting for me and my brother. I don't know how different things could've been between us, but one thing is true. I never guessed I'd miss her this much.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

"When you are out there on the road"*

When I moved in I brought some of the cds from my old car with me. I knew, as I packed them along with the few possessions I was able to bring with me, that they'd be important, I just didn't fully realise how much. Today I drove our car for the third time. I took the cds out and inserted the one that has been my soundtrack ever since I've been driving on my own in the cd player. As Such great heights from The Postal Service started to play I could feel myself relaxing and breathing more easily, and actually having fun whilst driving (which is not a random event, though it is a first since I started driving here). In fact, apart from one minor injury on my left shoulder and the fact that I don't actually know my way around and thus have to rely on a GPS to get anywhere it was as if I've been doing this for ages. And the music just makes everything right. Listening to the same cd that was always (and I mean ALWAYS) playing on my old car back in Portugal makes me feel like I've gone full circle. I'm back to where I started, and yet I'm someplace far far ahead. And it makes me feel home, even if I'm somewhere new. And that's unbelievably good! And so it seems I have conquered the roads! I got back this piece of my old life and I feel so much better for it. I feel more like me than I did before. And that can only be good!

*Such great heights, The Postal Service

Friday, March 30, 2012

The everlasting quest

Someone once said that we are not nouns, we are verbs. Always in constant movement. Another someone also said that happiness is a state of mind. It's not a period of time (however short or long)  where the constants in our lives are aligned in a certain way that makes us happy; being happy at work, with your relationship, with your social life, with your family life, etc, etc, is not just a coincidence - to a greater degree than what most of us realize it's more of a choice than anything else.  But it's also not that simple. In most cases it's not enough to say I think I'm happy, therefore I'm happy (though sometimes it really is a matter of perpective, of trying to see the glass half-full). It takes action. Embracing that we are verbs and not nouns. Happiness is a choice and a quest. It's saying I want to be happy, then analyzing what can be done to improve every aspect of your life, and then it's acting on it. Dreams do come true, but not just because we wish them to; there's always a certain amount of effort that must come from our part.

I have dreams. And because most of those dreams are simple and... halfway done, I fooled myself into thinking I could just sit back and relax and let things run their natural course, since everything was already heading in the right direction. I had already moved to a foreign country, I had an amazing relationship with a great man, I was on my way to being independent and finding a dream-job. I thought if I let it all on autopilot soon the path to the dream-job would reveal itself, the relationship would naturally progress to a home, marriage, family, the whole suburban dream. But that's not the way it works. You can take a break (and Lord knows I needed one at the time), but if you take too long to get back to it, all that you've conquered starts to rust and fall apart. Life is not like riding a bicycle. If you don't practice, if you don't put in some work, you'll forget and things will start to crumble. And that's what happened. I got comfortable. And now that I've opened my eyes and taken a good look at what a mess I've made of things I'm determined to change. To do the work and get it right this time.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The portable book nook

It's no secret that I love books. And even though I have no trouble reading pretty much anywhere I've been feeling the need for a special place for my readings. Somewhere comfortable where I could open a book (or turn on my kindle) and read to my heart's content. Much like Goldilocks I tried every spot in the house to no avail. The two-seat sofa wasn't cozy enough and I couldn't get into a comfortable position. The chair-bed didn't have armrests, so my elbows just stood in the air, holding the book until my arms got tired. And reading in bed always led to unwanted naps and made my days so much lazier. And it was a little sad that in my own home I couldn't find a place to read to my taste. So, the moment I had a little money burning in my pocket I decided it was time to fix this.

I knew what I wanted but I also had some limitations: I didn't have a lot of space and I was on a budget. So, after a long, long search on the internet I came across something called a moon chair. It had great reviews on amazon and so, since it was extremely affordable, I decided to buy one. I wasn't completely prepared for what followed. The delivery was surprisingly speedy (barely 48 hours) and when I got the enormous box inside the house I discovered layer after layer of goodness. The moonchair was easily folded and kept inside its own carrier bag (plastic with handles and very easy to put under the bed). I unfolded it and sat on it. I grabbed a book. And I couldn't believe it. It was heaven. The chair was low, so I was sitting close to the floor (which is a plus for me, being a short person). Being round it provided the perfect support of my elbows and arms and the level of inclination was perfect to that I didn't have to put too much pressure on my neck.It was if the chair was hugging me, like it was a coccoon, perfectly fitting my body. It was also very light and I could easily move it around the house and fold it again when I didn't need it. Which is never. I am always there now, every scrap of free time I get I grab my book or kindle and that's where you can find me.

I am beyond happy. Before I purchased the moon chair (or, as I call it, my portable book nook) I didn't even realize how antsy this lack of a place to read made me. How much I needed it. It might seem like it's no big deal, like I'm making a mountain out of a mole hill, but it turns out this was of the uttermost importance. Now I feel so much more at home. Because now there's a place for my readings (which are a significant part of my life), a place that is mine, created by me (well, bought, but you get the point) and for me. A place in this land where I belong completely. And I am happy!

Who knew a simple foldable chair could make such an impact on my life!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Right here and a world away

The weather is warming up. In the past few days since Spring began there's been a lot more light and sunshine and even some warm gentle breeze. There's tiny new leaves on the trees and on the ground it seems an immense garen has burst to life. It feels a lot closer to home, and that somehow makes it bittersweet. My heart getting giddy feeling I'm back home, only to realize a breath afterwards that I'm still here. No don't get me wrong; I'm thrilled to be here and I intend to stay put for many, many years. Still there are moments that take your breath away and - in a single moment, triggering one single sense - can bring you close to tears. Happy tears, mind you. The seagulls' cry on a sunny morning takes me back to our yearly family vacation in Algarve. The smell of a random barbecue in the air transports me to downtown Lisbon on a regular 13th of June. The taste of a lamb and mint pie is the taste of childhood dinners in Alentejo. And - for the most part - it always takes you off guard. You're walking down the street and bam! something transports you in time and space back to where you came from. To all those happy memories and places (and people) you left behind.

I like the seagulls' cry, just like I treasure everything that takes me back, even if only for a second. Even if it hurts a little. Because it's all part of my heritage, of who I am. And I can't (or even don't want) to simply ignore it.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The meerkat report # 6

or Learning how to drive in the UK

Today I had my first driving lesson in the UK. Two full hours of driving on the left side of the road and with the wheel on the right side of the car. Yep, it was quite the suburban adventure! You know what they say that doctors make the worst patients? Well, it turns out the same can be said of drivers. It was the most surreal experience! Because I drove my own car for three years before switching countries, I knew what I wanted to do, I knew how to do it instinctively, on a subconscious level, but now I had to actively do it in reverse.

First there's driving a car that runs on petrol, instead of diesel, which makes it a little bit trickier to handle the clutch. Then there's changing gears and signalling with your left hand. The first few times I kept going for the windscreen wipers instead of the indicators. Also, do you remember that feeling when you first start driving that you're in the middle of the road and that you are going to crash against the cars on the opposite lane when in fact you're just not used to looking at the road from the driver's seat? Well, when you first drive in the UK that feeling comes back again and you have to struggle to keep "in the middle of the road" so that you don't accidentally step onto the curb and run over mothers with buggies. Not to mention that every time the instructor said "Look in your mirrors" I didn't know which ones he meant (there's all sorts of new blindspots now that I'm sitting on the right seat), so I kept looking all over before moving an inch. Oh, and you have to remember that the lane to your right is the slowest, and the one to your left is the fastest. Then there's roundabouts and junctions, what a nightmare! Thankfully the instructor kept saying "danger always comes from the right", which helped enormously! And to top it all off there's national differences! In Portugal we are royally told off if we turn the wheel with our hands still roughly in the 10 and 2 o'clock position (as if I were pulling on a rope), instead we're told to do it crossing our hands. Here it's the opposite. Which, to my mind, seems completely idiotic. So, because I kept turning the wheel the way I was taught to, I kept hearing the words "you drive like a lorry driver". Which I guess wasn't meant as a compliment.

Anyway, I'm glad I booked that class, because as it turns out driving "in reverse" is not as easy as I inicially thought, so I'll be sure to book a few more before venturing on my own. Anyway, at the very least, it makes for a funny story to tell your family and friends back home!

It's Spring, all bets are off...

... and the sky is the limit!

The changes of Spring

Winter is over. Spring is here. It starts today. And just like with the seasons, so it seems to be with my life. The new year brought great changes, sure, but it's now, today even, that my life seems to blossom once more. Today it all starts changing back to the way it was before I came here, and yet nothing will ever be the same. It's not just going back to the past, rather it's bring the bits of it back and incorporating them in my new life. Today I start driving again. I cannot tell you how happy this makes me. To drive again. To get that little piece of my old life back. And that seems to be only the beginning.

Yesterday, as I was making my way home from the city centre, I noticed a new bar that just opened. To my surprise they have salsa nights and kizomba nights. I was gobsmacked! That was simply godsent! To have a bar close to home that just happens to have nights dedicated to the two major dance styles I used to dance back in Portugal... it hardly seems coincidental! But again, it doesn't stop there. It so happens that a dear friend of mine stumbled upon a website of a dance school in Brum. Not just a dance school, a dance school with loads of open classes, with loads of styles (jazz, broadway, bollywood, pilates, etc, etc) AND with a pay as you go payment option, meaning I would pay only for the classes I'd attend to and I could just pop in any time I'd like, which is perfect for someone who works shifts.

Yes, everyone. It seems this is it! If I'm mindful and treat all these blessings with care I can make myself happy and whole again and use them as fuel to help me achieve whatever is left on my list of dreams and resolutions. Spring is only the beginning!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The wise man's fear # 2

"It's the questions we can't answer that teach us the most. They teach us how to think. If you give a man an answer, all he gains is a little fact. But give him a question and he'll look for his own answers."

Patrick Rothfuss

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The lost self

Since getting to the UK I feel I've somewhat lost my independence. I know it sounds weird, that's it should be the other way around, but stay with me! Moving to a foreign it's like going back in time; suddenly you feel you're five again and can't even be trusted to cross the street safely (which, by the way, is not an original idea; I've read it in one of Bill Bryson's books). Practically everything you had is lost or left behind in your home country and even your hard-earned life-long knowledge of how things work may not be applicable where you now live. So you have to start over regaining every little bit of that independence. Getting yourself into the system (national insurance, bank account, national health services, council tax, etc), getting a mobile, getting a job, learning how to navigate your area of residence, understanding the local accent, making new friends and, to people living in the UK such as myself, re-learning how to drive.

And it's all so sudden! One day you're packing to move to a foreign country, at the peak of your independence, visualising all the wondrous adventures you'll have and how great it'll all be, and the next day it's all gone. Of course, at first you don't even bother with it, you're so excited. But once all the early frenzy wears off you start to feel all that has been lacking in your life. And this is where I am. I've been trying to fight it off with denial, and lets just say it was a rotten plan. I have left behind so many people and so many hobbies that practically defined the person that I was that I now have trouble recognising myself when I look in the mirror.  I don't dance. I don't sing. I don't go to the movies. I don't drive. Instead I do all sorts of things that I didn't before. I cook and tend to the house. I travel by train. I get happy when the sky is only partly clouded. It's like Joana ceased to be in August 2011 and now there's Jo. Yep, that's what everyone here calls me. Jo. And I can't live like this anymore. Being just Jo isn't good enough. So I'm going on a rescue mission and I'll be damned if I don't bring part of the old me back! 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Week one report

So the first week went by in a flash, and here are the results! Diet-wise all was peachy fine for three days until I got back to work, by which point I fell miserably off the wagon. Exercise - none, though my legs have been killing me from working so much. Stress - a lot! Always on the run, always exhausted. On the new projects front nothing happened as well, but that was to be expected, what with all the stressful, stressful days! Morale - high, which is quite a good thing, all things considered.

So it wasn't the shiniest of starts, but I'm okay with it. I knew it was going to be hard and the thing is, I held the boat for three days, and that's something (little, but still something). Now all I have to do is learn how to keep things going whilst I'm at work, if not to keep it going forwards, at least to keep it going backwards! And lets have faith! I'm going to get there, even if it takes me a long time to do it!

Monday, March 05, 2012

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Coming clean

Lately I haven't been feeling very well. Well, actually, not lately; it's been going on for almost six months now. Since I moved to the UK my life changed a great deal, and yet somehow it's like I'm waiting for it to start. And I don't really know why. Maybe it's the slow start at my new job, but it kind of feels like not much has changed. There's plans and things I want to do that, at the moment, I can't start yet. And I'm so tired of waiting. Then I'm missing so much from my old life that at times I don't even recognize myself. I miss my family and my friends. I miss the sun and the city where I lived all my life. I miss going out. I miss singing and dancing and being on stage. I miss going to the movies. I miss my stuff. And all that is taking its toll on me. It's like a big chunk of my life, my routine, my personality, the person that I was is gone and I haven't figured out how to fill the empty spaces yet.

Right now I feel sparkless. Like I have no drive, nothing that compells me to move forwards, to be better. I have come up with plans and goals to keep myself entertained and moving on some sort of direction. Exercising, watching my diet, doing yoga, reading and doing some serious house work. Still most things I can't keep them up for more than a few days. It's as if my spirit is broken and all my best efforts come tumbling down like a house of cards at the first breeze. And part of me can't understand. I should be happy. I'm living with the love of my life. I moved to a foreign country and started a new life here. I didn't think I had the guts to do it, but I did it. I have conquered so much. Where has all that strength gone?

I have tried letting things run their course. I have licked my wounds. But still I don't feel my energy coming back to me. Every passing day my eyes look more and more empty as I look in the mirror. And it's begun to affect my relationship as well. I don't feel like the person that I was when all this started. I feel tiny and weak. I know change is inevitable, this still doesn't account for all the wretchedness, for all the numbness I feel inside. It's like I've fallen into a well and I'm scratching and clawing at the walls but I simply can't get out.

I don't even know what to say anymore. Tomorrow's internal assembly day. A day to detox, refocus and come up with another new plan. And then lets start over. I won't delude myself into thinking I won't fall off the wagon. I'm just hoping this time I'll get farther down the road and that whenever I fall (inevitably we all do) I'll take less time to get back on track again. I think I'm ready to start again!

Friday, March 02, 2012


Yesterday was World Book Day and I thought it shouldn't go unmentioned. In my opinion, it's been long overdue! It's a shame that we've been celebrating books for only fifteen years.

In my personal experience, books have changed my life completely, to a point where I can't even conceive the person that I am today without their influence. Every step of my life, through good times and bad, books have always been there. From a very early age they've provided a portal to countless realities and times. Books have taught me so much of what I know today. They've made me laugh, cry and think. Some have made me question my own humanity, posing hard questions to which all answers are impossible. They have stretched my boundaries and definitions of what is good, bad, moral, ethical and have shown me time and again how the world can be all sorts of different shades between black and white. I have traveled in space and time, guided by countless minds and voices. I am what I am partly because of the books I've read so far. And I believe I'm a better person than I would've been otherwise. And I intend to keep getting better and better, and reading more and more. After all, books make for extraordinary companions!

Thursday, March 01, 2012


Mas o problema é que você, meu caro, nunca há-de saber, nem eu lhe poderei nunca comunicar, como se traduz em mim aquilo que você me diz. Não, você não falou turco. Usámos, eu e você, a mesma língua, as mesmas palavras. Mas que culpa temos, eu e você, de as palavras, em si, serem vazias? Vazias, meu caro. E você enche-as do seu sentido, ao dizer-mas; e eu, ao acolhê-las, encho-as inevitavelmente do meu sentido. Julgámos que nos tínhamos entendido; não nos entendemos de todo.

Um, ninguém e cem mil, Luigi Pirandello

Monday, February 27, 2012

New country, different body

When you move to a foreign country, conditions are always somewhat different than where you came from originally. The weather, the food, the customs and routines probably won't be the same. So obviously your body behaves differently and sometimes it takes a while (lets say a few years) for you to tune your ear to what it's saying and to adjust completely to your new environment.

Coming from a very sunny country, I find I need vitamin supplements (especially vitamin D) to keep me going through the day. If I fail to take then I'll get SAD (Seasonal Affecting Disorder). It sounds like a posh name for something meaningless, but trust me, if you don't take care of it it can get pretty big pretty fast! Also, because I'm used to higher temperatures, it's sometimes tricky to keep my daily water intake, because here I hardly ever feel thristy. Right now I'm a bit under the weather - constant sneezing or feeling like I'm about to, nose clogged up yet feeling runny, voice damaged but not exactly hoarse. So I started treating it like it was a simple cold. Now, after three nights and two days of it it's beginning to dawn on me that it might be allergies. I've never had them in my life, but since my living conditions have certainly changed, this might be a first of many!

To some extent, sometimes it's just easier to forget what you know and restart your system entirely. Just create a national default mode for your newly adopted country. Open your eyes and learn the way of the land. Learn from the natives, after all they've been living here a heck of a lot longer than you! Just get it into your head that "resistance is futile". New country, new way of living. Make that your motto. I've kept some aspects of my old life (a few recipes, a handful of daily routines, etc) but most of it went out the window. It had to. And now I'm all for learning a new way of living, by trial and error if it must. Me and my body learning along the way. Hey, maybe I can even turn it around and introduce some new ingredients in my life. And God knows some of them have been long overdue!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Unwise love

We love what we love. Reason does not enter into it. In many ways, unwise love is the truest love. Anyone can love a thing because. That's as easy as putting a penny in your pocket. But to love something despite. To know the flaws and love them too. That is rare and pure and perfect.

The wise man's fear, Patrick Rothfuss

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Reviewing the situation*

I feel older. I am older. Closer to thirty than to twenty. Past-me sort of expected me to have my life figured out by now, and that freaks me out a little. I guess the whole "stop comparing yourself to others and just live your life" is going to be somewhat of a life-long lesson. And I'm okay with that, as well as I can be.

But even though I might look lost and lacking a plan, the truth is I took great strides from where I was a year ago. Last year I had a plan. This year I'm living it, so much so that I'm a bit confused as to what should follow next. But I'm IN the plan, I'm actually living it. And that's nothing short of brilliant! Now all I need is to keep going, even when it looks a bit hopeless. Because the hardships are part of it. And in little while (how little is yet to be determined, though) things will start to get better and better. And who knows what an entire year can hold? So I'm keeping true and steady, with a grin on my face and a long way to go.



Today's my 26th birthday. The first of many since moving to the UK. It's a lousy, rainy day outside and I'm alone for the day. If I were to trust the information given by my own senses, I'd cry. I've I were to give them space my own emotions and fears would eat me up. The weather. Being far away from my family and friends. Being a year older and still not knowing exactly what the heck I'm doing with my life. All that could easily crush me. IF I were to let it. Which I don't intend to. Not today, anyway.

So, for today I decided to pamper me as best as I can. I grabbed my laptop and went in search of a nice and cosy coffee shop with free wi-fi (from where all this ranting is being typed). Then I'll take a stroll, do some shopping, head back home, watch a movie (probably a musical), read a bit and then start prepping something special for dinner. Maybe even get a small birthday cake with a candle, just to celebrate the day. That's it. That's my grand, magnificent day! So lets get to it!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Moving forwards

I come from a small family. A family that is only getting smaller, one death at a time. With all the loss around me it somehow seems strange how and where did I find the audacity to move to a foreign country, so far away from what little I have left. But I did. And I even though I look back quite a lot, I've never regretted my decision. Because with every death the bonds that tied me to the living started to feel more and more like multiple nooses around my neck. I resembled Miss Havisham, from Dickens' Great Expectations; I was getting old without ever being young and without ever having a life to call my own. So I left. Now all that is left to tie us is blood and love. Now things are as they should always have been. It's sad, but it's true. Now my life is whatever I decide to make of it. The future is moving forwards and I'm creating my own path. And who knows? I might even start my own family. To create a new future instead of being always chained to the past. More than anything all that I feel for my family is love. No more resentment, no more feeling trapped in a hiatus. I'm living my life, and I love them for being part of it. And it feels right.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Another goodbye

The new year has barely even started and already it's time to say goodbye. As of friday last, my great-aunt is no longer among us. It was quick and unexpected and I'm still trying to come to terms with it. So much so that it's hard to write about it, words simply don't come easily.

I loved my great-aunt very much. She was my reading buddy, the one person in my family with whom I could talk about books and share opinions. Now that she is gone I realize how much influence she had in other parts of my life and the way I grew up, especially in these last few years. I'll miss her dearly. I take comfort in knowing that she died the way she wanted to, even if it was too soon - which it was. Her last words to me were wishes of future happiness in the new life that awaited me and that is as perfect as perfect goodbyes go (even if at the time we didn't know it was really goodbye). Then she turned to my boyfriend and, thinking I wasn't listening, told him to take good care of me. Again, perfect. So yeah, it was a big shock but at least my mind and my heart are at peace. We parted well. So much so that it feels more of a seen-you-soon than a real heart breaking goodbye. And that makes everything slightly better.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Tuesday, January 03, 2012


I like January. As someone wrote down somewhere on the web, it's a month of hope, of new beginnings. Somewhere deep inside them people find the strength and willingness to do so many things that are considered hard and/or boring on most of the other months. They start diets, go to the gym, start reading that book that's been on the to-read list for so long and they decide to make some changes in their lives. Then, as the year progresses the feeling starts to fade away and eventually most of their resolutions are slowly put aside. Well, but since we're still in January, lets believe this year we can make it all last. Here's to better year than the one that's only just behind us.