Wednesday, June 29, 2005


I'm back. Sorry it's been so long since I've posted. It wasn't necessarily for lack of anything to say; but the last two weeks has been a period of big change for me (although it wasn't sudden change), and in what little time that has remained for "blogging", I've found myself in a condition not (psychologically) favourable for much in the way of "intellectual" activity.

Saturday I finished moving from the office I have worked out of for the last 11 years. The furniture and boxes have been dutifully stored away in the garage (yesterday I completed a major organization effort!). Hopefully within the next few weeks construction will begin on an addition to our home which will house my new office. Until then, I am a vagrant computer consultant, partly on vacation and partly unemployed.

The company itself has not strictly come to an end; but the closing of our office is clearly a major and definitive step that represents a radical change in direction. Just a few months ago we were managing 59 employees (mostly software and hardware support, DBA's, help desk, etc.) for one of Brazil's largest corporations. From now on, I will be working alone, out of my home on a consulting basis, whenever work happens to be available. What the future holds in store is a big subject, however, that I may address in another future post (or posts).

Closing the office represents the culmination of several months of contemplation, much discussion, and many decisions ensuing from our loss of a major contract at Petrobras. Those of us involved in the final decision weighed carefully the options; at stake was the future direction of the company (and, more importantly, our lives!). In the end, the decision practically made itself. While we could have pressed forward, focused strongly on sales, and tried to adapt to the new market, make the company more competitive, I think that both of us felt that the moment was appropriate for a change. Each of us has personal projects we wish to pursue, and with the new organizational model we will have the freedom to invest our time and energy as we see fit.
In a sense, we are returning to our "roots". We started out as a software consulting and development company; nearly all of the customers who contracted us in the beginning did so because they were familiar with our technical capabilities. Over the last two years, however, we had evolved into an organization whose success no longer depended on our own technical experience and knowledge. In fact, many of our competitors have a background purely in human resource management and outsourcing (receptionists, janitors, call center, etc.). We truly never had meant to go this route, but sometimes chance and circumstances lead us down paths that we don't expect to follow.

Don't get me wrong: I have no regrets about these final two years. The experience was interesting; it was challenging; and it was rewarding. However, we have come to the conclusion that to compete successfully in this market, we would have to be prepared to make sacrifices that we are not really prepared to make, and take risks that we do not wish to take. Even then there would be no guarantee of success; there is a lot of competition out there, and large multinational companies clearly have an edge on us.

One of the options we considered was keeping the office: just keep paying rent and waiting to see what happens. Things have a tendency to turn around, and what may seem hopeless today may be nothing more than a temporary setback. But besides the financial burden, for me, closing the office can be seen as a symbolic act. Sometimes to move forward you must be prepared to let go of the past, and that's not always as easy as it may seem. This aspect only really hit home when I started boxing things up; it was a melancoly moment, and a little sad. Funny how we become attached to the physical aspects of things. The office has come to physically represent a phase of my life, and it has been an extension of my "home" over the last 11 years. Leaving it is difficult, but once the idea of leaving it had really sunk in, and I had accepted it, the feeling was almost liberating. As if I were wiping a slate clean and starting over.

One of the big concerns is how this change will affect the family dynamics. The immediate consequence ... me being at home much more ... seems to be a "good thing"; but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing! Cristina is being very supportive of the change, which is not without its' risks. She herself is at a crossroads, with many decisions to make about her career and personal life.

For the kids, the hardest part was also the physical aspect of leaving the office. For them, going to Dad's work was always a "sure-fire hit" program. Looking out the 23rd floor window at downtown Rio and Guanabara Bay; playing computer games, drawing, writing, followed by the obligatory lunch at McDonald's. Just knowing the office was there and knowing I was there, and feeling part of it, was always very important to them. (Pictures of one of their last visits to the office, and the ferry ride downtown, can be seen in the gallery here.)

Adults tend to take these things for granted, but our parents' workplace can be a strong part of our image of our parents. Still today I can remember the images and even the smell of Dad's shop, Gramling Tool & Die (later Preco): the creaky wooden staircase that led up to the dark wood paneled offices; the coke machine out in the shop; the smell of grease and dust and the whine of power tools. These memories are an indelible part of my childhood, and undoubtedly had a strong influence on myself and all of us (brothers and sister).

James in particular had a hard time accepting the announcement. He is very attached to the past, and still becomes sad when he remembers the apartment we lived in before building the house. Saturday, I took him there to see how the office now is: without furniture, dusty and full of boxes. I also spent hours talking with him, explaining our decision and talking about the future and the past. It seems to have provide closure for him, and it just might have helped me a little too!

So that's that: on to the future! (If anybody needs a relational database consultant, let me know!)


Yesterday Cristina and I celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary. It's hard to believe it's been fourteen years! That itself has other implications: it means I've been living in Brazil now for 15 years; also, it's been almost 19 years since we started dating.

A quick google search tells me that the 14th anniversary is "Ivory". Whatever. I guess it's better than the 11th, which is "Steel", and the 10th which is "Tin". Next year will be "Crystal", so that's kind of cool.

Having left the kids with a babysitter (trustworthy "Iá-Iá"), we spent the evening reminiscing at what was once (pre-kids) one of our favourite restaurants (Guimas, at Rio's Fashion Mall). It was still good, but even that is another example of how we idealize the past: it wasn't all that I remembered, and Cristina felt the same way. Try as we might, we can't "go back" to the past. I think next year we will try out a new restaurant; somewhere we have never been before.

Still, it was a very enjoyable outing, and the conversation was good. With all of the changes and decisions we are facing, one thing both of us feel is that we haven't had enough time to talk, just the two of us (without the constant interruptions and demands placed on us by our daily life!).

Last week was Mom & Steve's first wedding anniversary ("Paper!"); since I haven't talked to her in several weeks, I'll take this opportunity to congratulate them!

Soon (tomorrow?) I'll get back to trying to clear out some of my backlog (backblog?), which is growing every week.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Geraldo's House

This weekend Gustavo and I prepared a nice barbecue at Geraldo's House.

"Geraldo's House" is an inside joke, that any Fonseca or aggregate will immediately recognize. Without going into too much detail, Geraldo is the caretaker of the house Gustavo and Regina bought in Rio last year, just before moving back to the states. Since then, the house has been little more than a storage container for their posessions (which will soon be shipped back to the US) and also a good job for Geraldo (who does an excellent job of taking care of the garden, but can't seem to get the hang of taking care of the pool).

The pictures from this Sunday are here.

The barbecue ... a traditional brazilian churrasco... and the company, was pleasant and enjoyable. For a change, I overestimated the amount of meat (by a factor of three). The kids, however, didn't mind the fact that lunch wasn't ready until about 3 pm, and took advantage of it in their usual style (running about, waging mock star wars battles, etc.). Luckily there were no major injuries, although, on the following day, we discovered an immense thorn that had completely perfurated Kevin's sandal (from Geraldo's rose bushes). We only noticed it after Kevin had been complaining for nearly half-an-hour that he wanted to take off his shoes, because "it hurts".

It's interesting how men always get the credit for outdoor barbecues; this seems to be a phenomenon that transcends cultures. We stand around the grill, turning meat, drinking beer and (in Brasil), constantly "sampling" the meat as it is prepared. The women, on the other hand, are usually slaving away in the kitchen preparing the "extras" (rice, salads, desserts, etc.). I'm not trying to minimize our contribution ... I personally rarely eat much of the extras anyway (beer and meat are enough!), but it just seems like the kind of thing women would pick up on and complain about!

This morning I'm "babysitting" Kevin while Cristina is at her class on Family Therapy. At the moment, I'm taking advantage of a few moments of peace while he snacks and watches Animal Alphabet. So far I'm averaging a blog entry every two days. I don't know how long I will be keep this up; or maybe I will increase the pace. It's hard to say. As an aspiring writer, I'm looking at this as kind of an exercise, to help get me in the habit of writing on a daily basis. Maybe I will start another blog to start publishing informally some stories I am writing ...

That's all for now... Kevin is calling me to play with his Thomas the Train collection!

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Alien Life Form

Warning: The following account is rated PG, for some gross slimy pictures and a tragic ending.

A few weeks ago, I decided to clean out the pump house (well ... maybe I should say, I was forced to clean out the pump house after the pump broke, and it was the only way I could get to it to have it fixed).

As I poked around amidst the pool chemicals, hoses, and mortal remains of various perfurated inflatables (Sam's handiwork), I came across a strange object that looked like a large sea-shell, apparently stuck to the back wall. I had to use a small shovel to pry it off, at which point it emitted a strange hissing sound ... almost a scream, or an intake of air as if a vacuum seal had been broken.

Startled, my first reaction was ... Alien! I retreated quickly, fearing it was going to jump on my face and stick a tube down my throat. But as my calm returned and rationality with it, I studied the creature more closely:

It was indeed some kind of giant snail. Although I had never seen one before, I had heard of them: In Brazil, they are known as the Caramujo Gigante Africano (Achatina fulica Bowdich), or Giant African Snail. A little research on the internet confirmed the identification: a native of northeast Africa, introduced accidently to the south of Brazil in the 1980's by someone who thought they were importing escargot, this creature has thrived and spread throughout much of Brazil. Since they reproduce rapidly, have no native predators, and consume large quantities of vegetable matter, they are considered a pest and a real threat to the native habitat as well as agricultural activities.

To top it off, they are known to carry several really nasty parasites, including one that causes a form of bacterial meningitis that is generally fatal.

As a result, Brazilian authorities have waged a ruthless campaign against the Giant African Snail, and are unequivocal as to their policy toward these animals: they are to be eradicated. Government information campaigns explain in gory detail how to rid your yard of the slimy pest: if encountered, they should be collected (with gloves!), then burned or boiled, and their shells should be crushed before being disposed of (to prevent their shells from becoming breeding repositories for dengue-carrying mosquitos).

This sounded like alot of work to me. I contemplated heaving it over the fence into the neighbor's yard, but then I realized that if it proliferated, nothing would prevent the offspring from infesting my yard as well.

My second thought was to contact the Authorities and demand that they deal with it. I envisioned a HAZMAT team descending on our yard, dressed in yellow rubber suits with oxygen masks. A perimeter would be established, and our entrance would be sealed with yellow tape. We would be quarantined, while the technicians conducted a sweep of the yard with sophisticated electronic equipment while the neighbors whispered nervously to each other behind drawn curtains.

Well, maybe I've seen too many movies and post-911 news reports (anybody remember anthrax???).

Still unsure what to do with my discovery but being very careful not to come into contact with its' lethal scum, I mounted my own hazardous material removal operation: using plastic bags, rubber gloves, and varios garden implements, I managed to trap the dangerous creature in a large bucket (Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, would have been impressed!). Secure in the knowledge that the animal was safely caged (with a couple of pounds of bricks piled on the lid!), I settled in for further internet research. What kind of decontamination procedures should I follow for my pump house? What if Kevin or Sam (the dog) were to come into contact with the deadly mucous trail that it must have left in it's wake? And where in the world did it come from? How did it get in my pump house? What if there are more of the vile creatures out there?

The more I read about the animal, however, the more I realized that the poor creature had been given a bad rap (university websites usually offer the most objective information). First off, the parasites it can transmit are picked up as the result of sliding over already contaminated rat urine; in other words, it will only be deadly if it has come in contact with deadly rats. Second, the diseases that this species is known to transmit have, as of yet, never been detected in Brasil. So far, they are known to exist only in the snail's native habitat of Africa and Asia, and the only chance of it being introduced to Brasil would be if a contaminated rat from Africa were somehow to disembark in Brazil and the snail were to slither through it's urine: all in all, not a highly probable eventuality.

The snail is, however, a prolific pest and a threat to agriculture in Brazil, which explains the government's campaign to exterminate it, as well as the (mis)information campaign that seeks to villify this species. Nevertheless, I was hesitant to fulfill my civic duty and carry out the required sentence according to official dogma. By now, the creature had already been informally given a name: Gary (anyone who has kids or has seen SpongeBob Squarepants will know where that name comes from!).

Still, prudence dictated that I not be overly complacent. Better safe than sorry. So I left Gary in the bucket (with the bricks), in the pump-house in the hope that nature would take care of the problem on it's own (daytime temperatures in the high 80's, no water ...). I know-- not exactly the most humane form of execution -- but the thought of having to smell charred escargot turned my stomach.

The next morning, I was shocked to discover that the lid from the bucket (together with the bricks!) had been overturned, and Gary was gone! A shiver ran down my spine as I took in the implications: maybe Gary really was more than just a snail! Maybe his alien companions had busted him out! Man, they're going to be pissed!

Or maybe a snail is just stronger than I thought.

It didn't take me long to find the sorry fugitive: cowering beneath the pool filter, about 30 cm from the bucket (snails aren't very fast). I returned him to the bucket and doubled the pile of bricks. I then proceeded to forget about him for the next few days....

When I finally remembered him, I removed him from the bucket, sure by now that he was a goner. But then, as I prepared to wrap Gary in newspaper and place him in the trash, suddenly his antennae appeared. As I quietly observed him, he slowly came out of his shell and resumed his breakneck flight to freedom. The photo sequence can be seen in the gallery: click here

That's when I realized I had no choice. I would have to carry out the sentence: I couldn't just return him to solitary confinement and let him die of dehydration and starvation; much less did I want to keep Gary as a "pet". In the end, I copped out: I couldn't bring myself to look him in those sad little tentacle-eyes and incinerate him like a man. After confining him for nearly a week, a plastic bag and a heavy rock brought a quick end to poor Gary's suffering.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Juliana's Birthday

Last night was Juliana's (7th) birthday party ! (See the pictures here).

Gustavo & Regina arrived in Rio last week, where they'll be until the end of July. They've got their work cut out for them: selecting, boxing, and shipping the contents of their house in Rio back to Florida, as well as trying to sell the house.

The cousins were very happy to be reunited, and have been taking advantage of every possible moment together. Juliana's birthday, complete with Harry Potter decorations and a massive chocolate cake, was yet another opportunity to turn Vovo Celio and Clea's home inside out. Wrestling, pillow fights, running, jumping over furniture, hide-and-seek... even Kevin and Nicole got in on the action. With all of the brazilian-side cousins together for the first time in over a year, the excitement was palpable (and VERY audible!).

It all came to a rather abrupt end, however, when James went down over a pile of toys and his chin made precisely-aimed and bone-jarring contact with the corner of the marble coffee table that dominates the center of the living room. This table has a history: it's already been the protagonist of other injuries, including one of Kevin's famous head-crackings of last year. Unfortunately, that was long enough ago that we had stopped remembering to cover the table with a protective blanket whenever the kids start getting rowdy.

The next question was: stitches or no stitches? Although there wasn't alot of blood, the cut was clearly deep and wide enough to warrant them. After much debate, however, we decided to forgoe the late-night emergency-room experience (which we unfortunately have had more than enough of!) and I fashioned some crude, home-made butterfly bandages. It seems to have done the trick; in the worst case, he may be left with a barely visible scar on the underside of his chin, which he may have had anyway, even with stitches.

Things calmed down significantly after this excitement, and we moved on to the more important activities: like eating chocolate cake! (and brigadeiros too... sorry Kuka!) In her subtle way, Juliana seems to have enjoyed the party and her presents. Certainly, she is enjoying being together again with her cousins, as are they all.

I guess, just as we perceived during our visit to KC, where even the language barrier didn't interfere too much with the cousins enjoying each other's company, that "blood is thicker than water..."; meaning, more specifically, the great ocean (water) that separates our two continents!

Ok ... enough talking about blood for tonight ....


Or maybe just a little more...

I talked to Lori a couple of nights ago, after she returned from a trying stay in the hospital. The doctors apparently have found the culprit for at least some (?!?) of her afflictions: so she will be scheduling (or has already scheduled?) the removal of her gall bladder. Sounds like a barrel of fun.

I haven't had any news in the last couple of days, but I assume someone will tell me when anything important happens. Inthe meantime, we'll be praying for Lori.

I'm still waiting for some sign that anyone has actually seen this blog. I know that Sandy at least accessed the gallery, and Cleia did. I received an e-mail from Kim, and Gustavo actually posted a comment (consoling me that, even if no one cares now, it'll be cool to go back and read the blog 100 years from now!). So to the rest of you ... is there anybody out there?!?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Rio Holiday Sightseeing

Thursday May 27 was a holiday in Brazil (Corpus Christi), so we took the afternoon to visit one of the few tourist attractions / recreational areas in Rio that I have never been to. Pista Claudio Coutinho is a trail that winds around the base of Urca and Sugarloaf, climbing just above the rocky shoreline and just below the forest and massive stone walls that stretch high above.

The view of the bay and open sea is spectacular, and you get a privileged view of Sugarloaf (pão de Açucar) from below. Since we were saddled with a stroller, we had to stay on the main path, but there are supposedly more challenging trails that offer more rewarding views.

This walk was a great way to work off a delicious lunch at Outback Steakhouse (which is a very tradicional Brazilian restaurant :-). All in all, an enjoyable afternoon that made up for not going to Saquarema or anywhere over the holiday.

The pictures can be seen in the gallery, here .

Inspired by this success, on the following Sunday we went to São Conrado and walked along the beach. This is where the hang-gliders and paragliders land after a breathtaking leap from Pedra Bonita high above, in Tijuca Forest. Unfortunately, I didn't take my camera! But the kids really enjoyed it ... and the parents enjoyed getting the kids out of the house as well!

Lunch was good too, at another "traditional" Brazilian restaurant: Joe & Leo's Classic Hamburgers!

Monday, June 06, 2005

The Beginning

Ok... Here goes.

After many failed and half-hearted attempts at creating a personal web site, I've decided to change tack and try something different: a personal web log. This blog is "personal" in the sense that it's content is directed towards members of *my family* and/or possibly any friends who might be interested.

Mostly, this blog will serve as support for my photo gallery (Gramlingville Gallery) , which is kind of abandoned... even my own family rarely bothers to visit any more! (Don't think I don't know! my hit counter shows me how many visitors I have had!).

Granted, I haven't been very diligent about updating my gallery ... nor have I consistently communicated updates to everyone, so I can't really complain too much. On the other hand, I haven't exactly been showered with emails from family members either (ahem!), and I very rarely receive pictures from anyone either.

So this is my attempt to turn over a new leaf. The way I figure it, writing *one* message every once in a while that everyone can read will be alot easier than writing several individual emails for everyone ;-)


So that's it. I'll start out by announcing the latest update to the gallery: pictures from our USA trip in December and January of this year: New Jersey, Manhattan, Kansas City, Christmas, the Great Wolf, the Ice Storm ... it's all here. All of my pictures: not just a selection of the best or most representative ;-/

Pictures: December 2004 - January 2005

Sorry! In the future I will try to feed them in little by little, so as not to be too overwhelming!