Thursday, May 31, 2007

Adiós a mayo

Today, on the very last day of May, I want to profusely thank the month for having made up in glorious, sunny days for all the dreary chill of the near-endless wintry start to 2007.

May restored my faith that winter had finally capitulated to spring, although we did have some chilly days during my mom's visit. Good Caribbean woman that she is, she can't handle much cold at all and isn't acclimated, as I am after years of living in Ohio, to our changeable weather. But, all in all, she had good, warm days to take long walks to get her favorite salad at a local eatery.

Tonight, as my husband and I walked the dogs, I saw the first firefly of the season. The first luciérnaga all lit up and floating around, looking for a mate to ignite with. Oddly, I saw only one, and I didn't see a single other one on our walk back. Still, I'm going to take that single firefly as the first sign of summer, even if it's not a particularly enthusiastic sign.

Today I also accepted a tenure-track position (read: a real job) at the small liberal arts college where I've had a position as a visiting instructor for the past year and where I'll be as a dissertation fellow next year. Thus, my life is pretty much set for the foreseeable future. And being someone who likes to plan her life five years in advance, that feels so good! Today I also had a nice celebratory dinner with Dr. S and her excellent friend, both of whom are now going to be my colleagues for this foreseeable future. That's also a very good thing.

My husband isn't so thrilled that we're staying in Ohio for that foreseeable future (he'd rather be in Spain or Italy or Puerto Rico). But I'll just have to remind him each winter that there's always May and the fireflies to look forward to.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A walk through the late spring garden

On any given late-May day in our garden, you will see the peonies (above), which are now happy where my husband relocated them.

Pansies (yellow ones, specifically) are always a must-have in my spring garden. They don't do well in the summer heat so they'll pass away under 90-degree weather until fall, when they come back for the cooler weather.
The miramelindas, or impatiens, in a light shade of pink also dot spots in the garden. They are such flirty little flowers.
Geraniums are the belles of the ball. They are showy, especially in this shade of lipstick-red, and they are hardy.

But there's nothing like the humble daisy to cheer my day. How can you frown or weep when these flowers are inviting you to smile and turn toward the sun?

This glorious cabbage rose was a gift from my mother in law, and a transplant from West Virginia. It is flourishing in the garden.

These are the brujitas I've mentioned before. They tend to be temperamental but these are doing well (so far).

And, then, the pièce de résistance: my Bleeding Hearts. By today, there are no longer these many on the plant because the heat has caused them to wither and fall off, but they were glorious despite the evil late April frost that tried to kill them.

The Garden of Good and Good, my mother calls my garden. My father calls it the jardín mágico. I like both very much.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Mr. and Mrs. Mallard

Mr. and Mrs. Mallard were back today and it was my husband who saw them.

My mom and I were watching TV (we're hooked on the DVDs of "Epitafios," the fabulous 2004 Argentinian police series) when he called from downstairs to say the ducks were in our neighbor's backyard.

We came out, and there they were. Mr. and Mrs. Mallard trying to make little Mallards all over the neighbor's fenced-in yard. We decided we probably ought to let them know about the ducks' shenanigans, since the neighbors have two dogs that would likely make quick paté out of them, when Mr. Mallard took off over our heads to God knows where. Mrs. Mallard, however, remained behind in what appeared to be a mission to find a good egg-laying spot among the neighbors' large hostas.

After I told them, my neighbor's wife decided to leash her dog and flush out Mrs. Mallard so she would get the message that this yard wasn't a good one to nest in, and she succeeded without much trouble. The minute Mrs. Mallard saw the eager young black-Lab mix pulling on the leash to get to her, she tried to get through the fence unsuccessfully by bumping against it twice and then figured out that flight was the solution. She flew in the opposite direction to Mr. Mallard, leaving me to fret over how the couple would meet up again. But my husband assures me this is a done deal.

I don't know if I'll ever see Mr. and Mrs. Mallard again after today's adventure. But, if I could have, I would've welcomed them to our yard, with its little pond (puddle, really) and two old dogs that wouldn't know what to do with a duck even if it bit them in the rump.

Friday, May 18, 2007

¡Feliz cumpleaños, mami!

Today was my mami's birthday and my husband and I got to celebrate it by taking her out to dinner to a very nice seafood restaurant in a funky artist-y section of the city. She loved her fish and the restaurant (except for the funky experimental jazz piping through the sound system) so this will become a tradition.

My mami is a lioness. I inherit my feistiness and readiness for any good fight directly from my mom.

I like to tell the story of how last year she offered to call my veterinarian and berate them from Puerto Rico for telling me I had to take Geni home after her major cancer surgery last year, while my husband was away on a business trip. I had told her that I didn't feel like I could take proper care of her and I was anxious about that. She was ready to call them and tell them I would not be taking Geni home and there was nothing they could do about it.

I had to remind my mom that I am well into my 40s and can handle such situations. When I told her how I felt, the vet, of course, agreed to keep Geni for that first night and by the second day Geni was doing so well I did bring her home and all was well.

But it's really good to know my mami's got my back. She's ready to rumble and defend con uña y dientes any of her loved ones, especially her three children and six grand children.

My mami taught me to appreciate the little daily beauties that life offers up. I recall once how she remarked on the cuteness of the neon-green arrow of a traffic light and I realized then that she had taught me to notice such things. I owe my very attentive and appreciative eye to her.

I also inherit my sense of humor from her. My mom smiles a lot and her laugh is legendary because its evident and contagious glee is almost seismic in its force.

My mami also is a survivor and someone who has handled a lot in her life, but has not lost the ability to laugh and sing and dance and live each day to the utmost.

My mami is a historian, a teacher, a mentor, and a living example of a woman who, like Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos said of her own self, chose her own route and was not content to be what men wanted her to be.

My mami is a force of nature and I am my mami's daughter. Thanks to her, and because I have seen her do it, I know that I can move mountains.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

La buena tierra - Parte 2

Today my husband and I spent several hours sprucing up our yard and the efforts definitely show. That's another thing I love about gardening (and one big difference between it and teaching), the fruits of your labor show immediately.

I weeded the other four flower beds and all around my near-bursting peonies and my sprouting amapola. My husband transplanted an unhappy miniature rose that wasn't getting enough sun and a daisy I just planted yesterday, which also was way too ensconced in the back of the front flower bed to do what daisies do best: lift their bright yellow centers toward the sun.

As an amateur gardener, I have made all the mistakes by the book, especially planting sun-needing perennials in shady areas and shade-loving plants in too much sun. I've paid the price (well, mostly the plants have paid it) but I'm slowly learning to study the areas of the yard that get the most sun and plant accordingly.

Last fall, we transplanted the peonies (which I had unwittingly first planted in shady areas) to the sunniest spot in the garden and this year it looks like I will reap the rewards since they are all ready to bloom. I often suffer from peony envy as I walk around my neighborhood and see the gorgeous peonies cascading off the plants of neighbors while mine, year after year, bloomed sparingly, if at all. I hope there's no more peony envy this year.

The dogs also got their first bath of the year, which doesn't make either one happy (Geni looked positively mortified) so they are both shiny and, at least for a few hours, smell like something better than a dirty dog.

And I got to wear my first sleeveless shirt of the year, after slathering on the Coppertone to work in the sunlit yard. All in all, it's been a great Sunday and while I have no human children of my own, there's two cats and two dogs and plenty of fledgling flowers to make me feel like Mother's Day might just apply to me, too.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

La buena tierra

This evening, I took my small black trowel and broke the good and yielding earth to plant my first green living things of the year and it was exhilarating. I planted six tiny yellow sweet-banana peppers, African basil and rosemary.

Those small root-bound plants went into the large flower bed that will be my main herb garden this year, accompanied by the tons of dill and industrial quantities of mint, both of which have been perennials in this garden for a long, long time, judging by the way they reproduce like bunnies every spring.

I also have thyme, spindly asparagus, rhubarb and strawberries growing in the back huerto, behind our crumbling garage. And I hope to plant some cilantro and maybe some jalapeños later on.

I'm not a great gardener but I love gardening (although I detest weeding). Born and bred city-girl that I am, I didn't really get to do any gardening until I arrived in Ohio five years ago and found myself with lots of time in my hands before I eventually decided to return to school to get another set of graduate degrees.

I didn't know the first thing about gardening but I bought a few books and listened carefully to my mother-in-law, whose green thumb is famous and whose profusion of flowers is legendary.

It was my mother-in-law who accompanied me today to their favorite West Virginia greenhouse for my first plant shopping spree of the year, and I was like a little girl in a Barbie store (well, at least like the little girl I was in a Barbie store).

I showed some restraint and, apart from the herbs and a gorgeous neon-red geranium my mother-in-law found for me, I only got one large flat of powder pink impatiens (I like the Puerto Rican name of miramelindas better). I also brought home these tiny cone-shaped flowers I used to buy in Puerto Rico, which over there are called brujitas because the flowers look like little witch-faces in shades of white and deep purple with bursts of intense yellow (I found out that its scientific name is Torenia fournieri, or Clown Face or Wishbone Flower in English). Those I'll plant tomorrow.

Today's late-in-the-day labor also yielded one flower bed now clear of the pesky weeds with four more to go for tomorrow (I find it incredible how the late frosts in April almost killed my red Japanese maple and my bleeding hearts but the weeds were como si nada). The eye-candy geranium is also now resting snug and comfy in a beautiful planter.

I feel accomplished, more so today because I got my hands dirty and planted living things into the earth, than because yesterday marked the end of my first year of teaching at a small liberal arts college. But just like with teaching, there's something intimately rewarding about disturbing the soil and seeing living things thrive under your care and your touch.

I'm ready for the challenge and the reward. Let the growing season begin.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Sitting ducks

This morning, as I raised the blinds on our living room windows to allow the sunlight to stream into the darkened house, there was a pair of ducks - a Mallard male and his mate - on our front yard.

The Mallard drake (as the male is apparently called) had his typical hunter-green velvety head, black rump and yellow bill, while the homelier female was decked in the usual brown with dark brown bill (boy, would I hate being a Mallard female in that eternal color combination!).

They were happily pecking away in our front yard and I rushed to get the dogs and the cats settled so I could run upstairs to get my camera and snap the picture that would convince my husband that I wasn't hallucinating. But, alas, the picture of the ducks will have to wait because they vanished, literally, into thin air by the time I returned to the living room.

Of course I ran outside and spread some wildlife feed (corn, peanuts, bird seed) on the ground, hoping they'd come right back, but they didn't. I'm not sure what ducks eat, but I figured the wildlife fare would be acceptable. The squirrels really appreciated it, instead.

I think I saw what was perhaps this very same urbane pair last year in the front yard of a house a few blocks away. Back then, I was surprised to see a pair of ducks hanging out in the middle of our quite-urban neighborhood. But I never saw them again after that one sighting.

Still, there they were, today, in our front yard. I really do hope they return the visit so I can snap that picture and my husband believes spring fever isn't making me lose my mind.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Mayo, mes de las flores

May is among the best months, indeed. Even gray days in May are more tolerable, simply because it's May.

When I saw the upcoming five-day stretch in the meteorologist's chart during this morning's broadcast, which showed five consecutive days of round yellow suns, zero percent chance of precipitation and temperatures in the 70s, I barely could stop myself from giggling.

May has many celebration days. Yesterday was International Workers' Day although nobody seemed to notice. Saturday is Cinco de Mayo, which marks the first victory in the 1862 war to defeat Maximiliano de Austria, who was imposed as emperor of Mexico by the idiot Napoleon III. My husband and I are going to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with the Latino students at the college and we're taking our second motorcycle trip of the year.

The first motorcycle trip, which we did last Saturday (when we were still in that April that was really March continued), was not the best idea I've ever had - it was my hopeful idea that we could leave the car behind and take the motorcycle since it would warm up into the 60s. But when we left it was barely 48 degrees and only about 10 degrees warmer - the word "warmer" being an exaggeration - when we returned in the afternoon. No doubt that I'm a hopeful person, as my mom always says, and that hope is what gets me in trouble, time and time again.

This Saturday, in May, the forecast is for 72 degrees. Ooops, I started giggling again!

May is also Mother's Day and my mami's birthday. My second semester ends next week after finals are turned in and then there's graduation, which I plan to attend just to be part of the pageantry and the celebration.

For the first time since I started grad school in 2002, I'll be a free woman this May (well, relatively free given that I still have a dissertation to write). I'm not registered to work or study this summer (except for a three-week college-prep program I'll be team-teaching with Dr. S in June), so my appointment book is eerily and uncharacteristically blank. It'll be a new experience for me, indeed. I must admit to a certain trepidation at having such open blocs of time. I'm so used to being busy, busy, busy.

This May, my sister is making noises about visiting with my nephews/godchildren for Memorial Day with her crazy dog, Ramey. That'll be wonderful because we'll have a great time, though my husband and I are worried of how the dog socializing will go since Rusty and Geni don't tolerate other dogs.

But then, this is May. And everything is possible in May. What can go wrong when the days are sunny and the temperatures are in the 70s? There I go with this uncontrollable giggling again...