Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Farewell, July!

I've changed the look of the blog after my youngest nephew, Diego, informed me that he found the aesthetics of the blog to be rather wanting. Pretty much in those very polite but firm words. He disliked the black background most of all. Thus, taking his feedback to heart, I've changed the colors to something I hope is at least a little brighter.

As July ticks on toward its sad end, I'm profoundly grateful for having had such a restful time, a true break, this month. And for having felt so well physically after a year of struggle on the heart front. In addition to joining a gym and doing some light stationary bicycling (added to my two walks with Lizzy each day), I've managed to read several books just for fun. These include current "bestsellers," like The Vacationers, The Hundred Year House, and Bliss House, which I'm almost done with. It's been great fun reading not-for-work. On audiobook, I've listened to The Husband's Secret, Mrs. Poe, Still Life with Breadcrumbs, and started on The Good Lord Bird, which is making me laugh out loud. For more serious work, I'm also reading In Cold Blood for the first time, and re-reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, both of which I'll be teaching in my new journalism class this fall.

I've taken to heart (so to speak) the realization that unscripted time is a rare privilege to be treasured. I know and hear and read about so many people whose busy-ness is like a compulsion so that they can't (or don't want to) stop long enough to think or ponder or consider. I'll never forget a friend at Harvard in the 1970s who told of his grandfather, an elevator operator in NYC, who never had any time off until he retired in his old age. July, with its blank-slated time, has been a blessing for me and I am deeply grateful that I've been able to enjoy it fully. Once we round the corner into August prepping for the semester and finishing scholarly projects will be the priority.

Just for fun, a work friend sent me a lovely tiara after I mentioned that I'd admired the ones that Princess Diana had during my recent visit to Cincinnati. Now I have my own tiara. "Don't encourage her!" another friend said on FB. Well, it's too late for that. :)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

July, how do I love thee?

July has been a fantastic month so far. In addition to the lovely anniversary trip to Kentucky with my husband, this past weekend my dearest friend K and I drove down to Cincinnati to visit with T, one of our favorite people and oldest friends. We were all together at OSU back in the day. We had a lovely lunch at Melt, which is a fantastic place we love, and then we headed to the Cincinnati Museum to the Princess Diana exhibit.

Though none of us is a "royalist," by any stretch of the imagination, we loved the fancy dresses and shoes and tiaras. The exhibit's "narrative" is interesting, too, because, as K so aptly noted, we go from Princess Diana's birth to her marriage to her being a "single" woman to her death. No mention at all of her divorce and little mention of her sons.

I shared my memory of how, on the night Princess Diana was killed in that terrible accident, I had been on the city desk at the newspaper I worked for in Puerto Rico. I was already home when I turned the TV on and saw the story about the accident. I remember calling the late night editor to make sure we didn't go to press until we had the story on the front page. (Our newspaper already had the dubious distinction of having totally missed the story of the fall of the Soviet Union, likely being the one newspaper in the world whose front page the next day didn't have that story.) Even though I was just the local news city editor, on that night I knew we had to make darned sure we didn't make the same mistake and definitely not under my watch. So that's a night I won't readily forget.

July's greatest gift has been the unscripted time I've been able to enjoy. I am working on my research projects, especially on reconceptualizing the book manuscript, and have started to get organized for the fall semester, which will begin in about a month's time. But I've had what feels like oodles of open time to read for fun, to work out at the gym, and to take the occasional nap, when I get tired. Health wise, I've been doing great, even after stopping one of the two heart meds I was taking a week or so ago. So far, all is more than good. And July isn't even over! Hail to July!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

20th anniversary!

Our 20th anniversary began early on July 4th when we went to my in-laws' lovely hill in West Virginia to visit them and my husband's sister and nephews, and were surprised by a cake and a celebration. That definitely set the tone for what was one of the best anniversaries we've ever had.

On Saturday, we packed up the car and started the drive to Kentucky, where we'd decided to spend our actual anniversary since I'd never been to the state or seen the horse farms or been to a bourbon distillery. I'd heard my husband talk about them after he did a motorcycle tour of three distilleries 13 years ago and this was an easy trip to a different place that promised to be enjoyable. And it didn't disappoint.

In researching for places to stay during our visit to Bourbon Country, I stumbled upon the 1851 Maple Hill Manor B&B, which came highly recommended. I'm often wary of Trip Advisor recommendations since we've had some not-so-good experiences with places highly rated on that site and I heard a story on NPR about how their reviews aren't always true. But we decided to try it and were really happy we did.

The inn, on top of a hill near Springfield, KY, is an alpaca and llama farm, with spacious rooms (we stayed in the Clara Barton Room) and a slow-paced feel that was just what the doctor ordered. The breakfasts were superb, with the "eggs in a basket" were particularly memorable and, unlike in the link, the eggs inside were perfectly fluffy and scrambled. The rambling property invited strolling, taking time to wait for the sunset, and petting the two friendly cats who became our shadows each time we went outside to enjoy the glorious weather and the large patio, which invited us to sit and read and chat and simply be. I decided to take advantage of their call-in masseuse and got a 30-minute neck, shoulders, hands, and feet massage that left me feeling more relaxed than I've felt this entire year. What a treat!

Another highlight of the trip was our visit to the Maker's Mark Bourbon Distillery, where we saw the whole process, from the "white dog" liquor produced from the fermented (yuck) grains to the finished product, which was provided at tour's end in a tasting. I don't like bourbon so I passed but my husband was able to fully enjoy that part of the tour.

We also went to the Lincoln Birthplace National Park and it was truly impressive to see the famous log house, in person, and so well preserved in what is basically a mausoleum. On our last day, and on the recommendation of another couple we met at the inn, we went to a famous independent bookstore in Lexington, KY: Joseph Beth Booksellers.

I love these three-day trips since they're not long enough to trigger my "I miss my house!" reaction. It was truly a special anniversary. Now we're thinking, thanks to my sister-in-law's idea, that maybe for our 25th we ought to return to Puerto Rico, to the place we were married in Guánica. Stay posted.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Hawthorne in Massachusetts

From June 12-17, I traveled to North Adams, Massachusetts, primarily for the Nathaniel Hawthorne Society meeting on "Hawthorne in the Berkshires." I'd never been to this part of Massachusetts and enjoyed the distinct beauty of the place (felt a lot to me more like we were in upstate New York, its abutting state). The NHS is a great and welcoming group and I've always enjoyed all their conferences I've attended. They tend to be the best professional conferences I get to attend, especially because I always get good comments and questions about my work on Hawthorne.

My husband was able to join me (he did a marathon trip from Ohio to Maine [to visit his sister] to Massachusetts to Pennsylvania and then back to Ohio) so we got a chance to sample the local restaurants and to take a field trip to the Natural Bridge and Mount Graylock, the highest peak in this region.

The Natural Bridge was impressive, a formation of rock that creates a bridge between two natural formations at this state park. The place was used to provide water for a mill but they discovered the natural formation was in danger of being destroyed so they stopped using it for commercial purposes and it's been a state park for a while. There are carvings on the rocks everywhere, some dating to the nineteenth century, although my husband was skeptical that they were that old.

Mount Graylock was also impressive, and the field trip was a good way to end two solid days of conferencing. Before returning home, I drove in my rental car to Cambridge where we stayed for two nights so I could do some work at the Radcliffe Schlesinger Library. The photo below shows not only the beauty of the roads I drove back on (stopping on the way to meet our lovely college daughter who now teaches in Massachusetts) but it also meant to show, as a dot way in front of me (leaving me in the dust, so to speak) my husband on his motorcycle. We drove through three state parks and there were no only "Moose Crossing" signs but also at least one "Black Bear Crossing" sign, which I couldn't get a photo of.

Once in Cambridge, we stayed at Prospect Place, a few blocks from the hub of Central Square, and not far from one of the apartments that I used to live in on the other side of the square while I was in college. This B&B worked out very well for us. It's about a mile and a half from Harvard Square so we were able to take long walks, which were great exercise (and there was a Starbucks about a couple of blocks away, which is always a plus for me).

At Harvard, I took a minute to visit my old first-year dorm (oh, how I disliked it then!) and to walk around the city to my former haunts, including the revolutionary cemetery, which I've always loved. Finally, I made it to the Schlesinger where I spent a solid work day, looking up records and examining manuscripts with a view of applying to its prestigious fellowship for my sabbatical leave year. Though the chances are minimal that I will be accepted, one should never say "no" for others so I'm going to give it the old college try.

Despite an initially stressful screw up on my part at Logan Airport that Thursday when I first arrived, when I left behind the EZPass I had paid dearly for so I had to turn around to get back to the rental building not really knowing my way around, the trip was really productive. It also was a lovely way to spend some summer time in my beloved erstwhile second-home of Massachusetts.

Monday, June 2, 2014


June is finally here and the peony glory is fading. These were some of the last beauties I cut from my garden recently. The peony has to be one of the most beautiful of flowers, and these baby pink ones are my very favorite, especially because of their sweet perfume.

This past weekend was one of the most gorgeous weather-wise in recent memory, especially welcome after a brutal winter that didn't seem to want to end. Though I think that's probably the case every year for me: it always feels like winter doesn't want to let go. I've been in Ohio now for 13 years but I don't think I'll ever get used to winter.

This month is a busy one with a trip to Massachusetts planned for next week for the Hawthorne conference, and then I'll teach part-time for three weeks in the summer bridge program for which I'm faculty co-director. Unfortunately, the summer teachers program that I direct didn't make this summer so I won't be teaching that.

June may be busy but I've been able to keep July and August free of commitments (except for a short trip to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary in early July!) to demonstrate to myself that I've learned to appreciate the privilege of having "time off." After all, that precious availability of unscripted time was one of the reasons why I decided to pursue a Ph.D. Work life is already so over-scheduled (and I'm not even juggling human children and a demanding job) that it feels simply wrong for me to over-schedule the summer, the one chunk of "free" time that we have available to us in this profession. It took me a while to learn that lesson, but better late than never.

And I'm very much looking forward to the work of thinking about and producing scholarship during this time, as well as of planning my two new courses in the fall: a new senior seminar that I'm modeling after my Honors classes, and a new Journalism class that will be a first at the college. This latter class is going to be the most work but I'm looking forward to seeing how it goes.

Hail June, then, for all its expectancy of fun and challenge and warm weather. Flaming June is a painting that hangs at the Ponce Art Museum, and one that speaks to all the promised beauty of this month.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Flower explosions in the garden

My mother-in-law gave me a cutting of this antique cabbage rose many years ago and my husband planted it in our back yard, right next to the front backyard gate. There it has thrived and grows plentifully and happily each spring and summer, generous with its lovely blooms and scent.

I used to have "peony envy" and have worked to have a patch of respectable peonies in our backyard, which has meant replanting after rookie mistakes of not knowing that they are dry-soil sun worshippers. Now that the plants are more established, I can enjoy my own peonies and need not envy anyone else's.

My husband built me a "rose patch" where we relocated the rose plants I had all over the place. These are the first offerings this year.

Gardening, something I didn't have any exposure to while growing up, is one of the blessings I've come to have in my life because of living in Ohio. My Abuela Jo (for Josefina) was a famous gardener, who had the loveliest pink roses in her garden as well as many other flowering plants. And my mom just told me that her mother, my Abuela Hebe, also had lovely gardens in her homes and even won a prize for them! I like to think that I inherited their green thumb and while I'm not a very hardworking gardener (my husband often remarks on how little weeding I do!), I really enjoy having and tending to flowering plants (though I don't want anything too fuzzy).

My father used to call our house's garden El jardín mágico and I guess it's still very much magical to me.