Friday, August 31, 2007

Little pleasures

This morning we took a longer-than-usual walk right at the time when the kids of the middle school near our house were all flocking to the building.

I love seeing kids walking to school accompanied by their parents, especially their dads. This morning, one dad had a very large husky on a leash and was herding about six rowdy boys to school. Very cute.

A grandfather was walking his two grandchildren and they were all three laughing and enjoying the walk. Totally cute, too.

Many moms walk their kids to school and they do so in posses, with a few toddlers walking ahead of them while the moms push several large strollers at the same time that they manage a dog or two on leashes. That feat always makes me smile.

The morning is pleasanter-than-usual here, with temperatures in the low 60s and that fall-ish, slow-rising sun that tells me summer is nearing its end. And you can't hear a single cicada buzzing, only the birds chirping and the slight rustle of the cool breeze brushing against the trees.

Sometimes, when I see a child walking alone (some seem to me as young as 5 or 6), I'll follow the kid to school (on the other side of the street and without them knowing).

I wouldn't let my middle-school kid walk alone to school. I just wouldn't be able to live with myself if he or she got kidnapped or molested or God forbid what else. No matter how close we lived to the school.

There's this one little girl with long dark hair who carries a violin case. I like walking "with her" because she reminds me of my gorgeous violin-playing niece. I like to think I could do that for my niece, although she is too far and now too grown (in her teens) to want or warrant my vigilance.

I often follow such kids to the school's crosswalk and then I turn and continue my travels with the dogs.

There used to be an elderly woman who walked alone, too, and I saw her often in my morning walks. She was almost bent to one side and obviously walked with difficulty but she covered a good distance each day.

I used to follow her, too, some winter days, when the sidewalks were icy, just to make sure that if something happened to her, I would be near to help.

I haven't seen her in a long, long time. The last time I saw her she had a distracted look and was sitting besides what must have been a relative, who was speaking to her in a patient, low voice, in the porch of her house. She looked so frail and so ancient. I miss seeing her now.

The dogs and I also have our fellow dog-walkers and dogs-in-yards who greet us and know us because they see us so often. Geni particularly likes a big black dog that barks at her and runs back and forth on his yard whenever he sees her. Rusty, of course, is completely uninterested.

A little white poodle, Mickey, is a favorite of ours. He stands back in his yard until we've passed and then he rushes at the fence of his house and barks and barks and barks and I can hear him when we're already half-a-mile away. He's very funny, pretending to be a brave dog.

A few of the kids we see on our morning journey praise the dogs and some even ask if they can pet them. I always feel bad saying "No, they're not friendly." The kids' faces say it all: "How can such a cute dog not be friendly?"

But, like most of life's hardest lessons, that's one that kids must learn quickly and well. Not all dogs, like not all people, are friendly. That's why I like it so much when I see the kids accompanied by someone who loves and cares for them.

And when they're not, I like to think that I'm doing a good thing by walking a little ways with them.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A fly on the wall...

Doesn't last long in this house.

How fast do you have to be to catch a fly? Pretty fast, no? Well, leave it to Darwin to catch any fly (or insect, for that matter) who makes the biggest mistake of its life by entering this house.

Darwin isn't big on eating spiders (I would imagine that they taste rather yucky). But his favorite delicacy is fly. And he relishes the experience even more if he has caught them after dogged (no pun intended) pursuit.

I've seen Darwin catch a fly between his paws (sometimes I swear he would love opposable thumbs) and then munch on it quickly, as if knowing that if he's late by less than a second the flighty creature will be off again.

But he doesn't really mind when they get free from him because he's completely confident that he will prevail, in the end. All he has to do is pursue and wait.

Darwin does honor to his famous tocayo not only by his own success at survival (he was found abandoned as a kitten under a wood pile because of his corpse-rising yowls) but also because he does a pretty good job at helping with natural selection in the insect world. He's quite good at picking off the insects that aren't going to make it to procreate.

I have to say that despite my generally Buddhist attitude toward almost all creatures, great and small, I don't save the flies from Darwin (though I will save them from drowning at my in-laws' pool). I figure it's part of the circle of life, or whatever it's called, if Darwin eats them. Drowning, however, seems a rather undignified death for a fly.

Now if only I could get Darwin to stop chewing on my plants, which he perceives to be his own personal salad bar, that would be an improvement around here.

Monday, August 27, 2007

One of those days

As the cicadas rattle their last hurrahs and as the afternoon collapses into night, I am tired. But not because the day has been particularly active, just because it has been inordinately frustrating.

It was one of those days where things just didn't want to go my way, regardless of how much I tried to make them so.

First thing this morning, an appointment I had for tomorrow was canceled with little apologies and a date more than a month from today given as an alternative. Not acceptable, at all. When I said that to the rude woman on the other side of the phone, she unceremoniously hung up on me.

Second thing this morning, while I was walking the doggies, my cell phone, which had suffered an unfortunate accident and broken a hinge about a month ago, broke completely in half and turned off its lights forever.

"F**** crap from hell," I groaned, and Rusty looked up at me, as he does whenever he hears me make a sound of frustration. Now that's bad news, I thought, since it not only means a big expense but a trip to the phone store filled with frustratingly unhelpful attendants.

Third, I decide to call the contractor to find out when he's coming with the inspector to finalize the Project of the Garage, which has seemed eternal in mythological proportions, like the rolling of a rock up and down a mountain. I can't reach him, so I leave a message.

He calls back when I'm on the only phone now available to me, making another call.

The short of it is that he's not planning on coming over and he has no idea when the inspector will be here. He thinks the inspector might have already stopped by (not true, since the inspection sheet is inside the locked garage, unsigned).

I call my husband and he says to go, leave the inspection sheet outside on the gate and the garage unlocked, which I'm loath to do given that the police blotter here is filled with reports of stolen property from "unsecured" garages. But I do as I'm told and go.

I return a few hours later after running my errands without much interference from the gods, and get a call from the contractor. Did the inspector come? he asks. Yes, I say, since I've now seen that the signed sheet is in the garage, which was locked when I returned.

He informs me that the electricians will be coming today or tomorrow to change the ugly, cheap light fixture they installed outside of the garage entrance door and tells me that we need to send him the last payment.

"Sure, when the light is done we'll send it off immediately," I say nicely.

"Well," he huffs and puffs, "I'm good for that light. And, actually, I don't even have to change it, I'm just doing it to be nice." And then he says goodbye and basically hangs up on me.

Now, the actual response from me should've been: "Change the f**** light and you'll get your f**** money." But it was not.

The worst part is I know that he would've never said something like that to my husband. He was saying it to me because he knew he could get away with doing so. Like the rude woman who hung up on me knew she could get away with her rudeness.

Frustration with the actions (or inactions) of others is the hardest to forgive and forget and the most tiring because there is nothing to be done about it.

But, as I've determined to take every day as a good lesson, that must be today's: That while we can never control the idiocy, stupidity, rudeness and downright incompetence of others, we can surely control our own reactions.

Now if I only had a punching bag around here...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Daily lessons

What if we made of each day a lesson? A new way to see ourselves and our world?

A way to become better people. In my case, less judgmental, less impatient, less intolerant.

What if we took each day and determined that we were going to learn something new? And that we were going to do something good for someone else?

Even the smallest acts of kindness create waves of change in the oceans of the universe.

Today, I had my Sunday all set out. This morning, I went to get improved at the spa with my bestest-of-friends KG to get ready for opening day (I start teaching this week). Then I planned to go to the gym.

But I hadn't seen Ms. K for a while so after my brows looked like a movie star's and my upper lip no longer looked like my brother's before he shaves, we went out to a coffee shop. Instead of rushing off, we had a leisurely chat. Soon enough, the afternoon caught up with us and we both had to get on with our day.

I then decided to stop at the nearby mercado for my favorite Mexican cheese, queso fresco, and for limones (10 for $1!) and for an horchata mix that the store owner pledged was the very best.

As I walked through the large store, which overflowed with Latino products of all types, I passed by the meat counter and ogled the thin pork chops. Momentarily, I yearned for the overcooked, crispy, thin pork chops of my youth, which I used to accompany with crispy, thin french fries and apple sauce.

"Would you like some of those?", the stud-earringed Latino youth at the counter asked, ending my reverie.

I hesitated a moment, and then decided: Why not?

", can I have one, por favor?," I asked.

"¿Una libra?," he asked. I didn't have the heart to tell him I only wanted one pork chop, so I said "" and left with three chops.

As I was getting ready to pay and move on to my next stop, my cell phone rang and it was my husband. His motorcycle had stranded him in a town about an hour-plus away. He had been on his way to his parents' in West Virginia.

Immediately, my whole day changed. I quickly came home, left my car in the garage, fitted the pick up truck with the ramps for transporting the motorcycle, and off I went to rescue my husband. Settling myself behind the cars on the highway that were going past the speed limit, I made it there in an hour.

For a change, I got to do the salvaging and that felt very good (he's always saving me from scrapes, especially when I get hopelessly lost near some cornfield). And the best part of all was that it was no big deal, no one was hurt, nothing was lost, except perhaps some time and the best laid plans for one Sunday.

Once home, my husband worked on his bike until he fixed it. On his own, thank you. We had a home-cooked meal of pink-bean taquitos and my crispy, thin, overcooked pork chop was delicious.

The whole episode reminded me of how important it is to make a conscious effort not to become a self-absorbed person. I don't want to be, even momentarily, the kind of person whose whole world revolves around them.

I want to take each day as a lesson, a chance to work on becoming a better human being, to challenge my limitations and improve on my liabilities.

I hope that every single day I'm alive teaches me something, up to the day I am no more of this world.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Raining cats

It's been raining cats and dogs here for almost two straight days and the thunderstorms have been ponderous even when we've avoided the brunt of the systems that have passed by.

Of course, this is nothing compared to Hurricane Dean, which thankfully skirted Puerto Rico but went on to batter the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and now Mexico. I sure am glad that I don't have to contend with Hurricane Season anymore!

But what's my cure for the rainy day blues? Magellan.

There's nothing like a self-important cat who thinks she's an Egyptian goddess to brighten up even the grayest day.

You may not know that I have to water Magellan. Yes, you read correctly. Water Magellan.

Ever since she was a three-week-old unweaned kitten, Magellan took a liking to the baby bottle we nursed her with. Even as a miniature embuste of a cat, Magellan loved to tear the nipple off those bottles with her tiny evil teeth. As she grew older, Magellan took a dislike to drinking water from a bowl, preferring to be given water in a bottle.

My theory, which my husband finds unconvincing, as do all the veterinarians who've heard me spout it, is that her bluest eyes don't work properly in distinguishing the edge of the water. Thus, she's afraid to drown by aspirating the water. Thus, she prefers that I give her water in her little bottle. OK, OK. I know how hokey that sounds but I think it's true.

Undoubtedly, I created a monster. Even though she's now a middle-aged female at eight years old, she still snubs the many filled-to-the-brim water bowls around the house and comes to fetch me to let me know she wants to be watered.

Her way of letting me know I'm being fetched is to come to where I am - usually either on the love seat in the TV room or at my desk in the basement office - and rub herself against me repeatedly, meowing in that almost-inaudible, pathetic meow she's always had. Then she moves away and sits.

When I'm upstairs in the TV room, she does this a few times and then saunters into the bathroom and sits in front of the sink, looking at me impassibly with her large, pool-blue eyes, waiting.

She will repeat this behavior as many times as it takes before I get the message (which I usually do immediately but I wait because I really enjoy her performance and have to laugh at her sense of utter command over me).

I must confess that Magellan gets watered as many times as she wants, no matter if I'm running late or I have other things I have to do right that minute. Magellan's watering needs come first.

Today, after her watering session and while the rain pit-pattered against the windows outside, Magellan got angry at the area rug in the basement office and attacked it a few times. Each time, I'd get up and smooth it back down and chastise her.

"Pick on someone your own size!", I'd say.

But she doesn't listen and attacks the rug again. Does she think she's a lioness or, better yet, a tigress, bringing down prey? Cats, I'm sure, have the greatest imagination and it often involves seeing themselves as much more than they really are.

Sharing, even for a moment, in that vision that they have of themselves as larger-than-life is quite the antidote for even the grayest and wettest of days.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Fall is in the air

Today feels like a prelude to fall, in that inimitable Ohio way in which the seasons herald themselves here, coyly at first but then inevitably.

Temperatures, which boiled with heat indexes in the 100s and open-faucet-level sweating humidities when August started, are now in the upper 60s, and I actually had to put my light jacket on this morning to prevent from being cold.

August is the month that usually comes in like a lion, and departs like a lamb.

The cicadas are in their final estertores and their zesty early August maracas are sounding more like a rather sad, if eerie, sputtering hizz.

While I love fall, I do not like that it is the prelude to winter. And it feels like I left that evil winter of 2006 behind only the other day.

But I'm rehearsing a new-old attitude to all things in life (old, because I've long known it's the best attitude and new because I'm giving it another chance). What I can't change, I will hand over to the fates and try not to obsess and wallow in anxiety about it.

I can't change the seasons, and I have as much power to stop winter from coming as I have of preventing the passage of time.

The better idea, then, I'm thinking, is to enjoy the coolness of the day and let the rest take care of itself.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

I absolutely love Chicago

Chicago is definitely one of my very favorite cities. I was first there for a meeting more than a decade ago, when I was on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and was quickly smitten.

The falling-in-love-all-over-again happened this past Thursday when I flew in for a la ida por la vuelta quick trip to do dissertation research at the fabulous Newberry Library.

I arrived at the smallish Midway Airport, where I'd never flown into before, and getting into the city and into my B&B using public transportation was easier than I ever dreamed. The signage is plentiful and easy to follow, especially for chronically-lost-people, like me. Thus, I almost-confidently changed trains at the downtown Loop and headed up on the red line to the stop where the B&B is located, only a few blocks from the gorgeous library building.

When I arrived at the station where I had to change to the red line, though, I was a bit perplexed, and must have shown it. I was expecting a stop such as Park Street in Boston, where you just go to another part of the subway to get on the red line. Not so in Chicago.

When you get off the orange line, which is elevated, you have to walk down to street level into another station and down into the underground subway (all with the same $2 card, which is great!). Noticing my momentary confusion when I got off the first train, a very nice woman approached me, asked if I needed help, and quickly pointed me in the right direction.

I love subways. And I particularly like Chicago's because the elevated portions are long and the trains snake between buildings in seemingly impossible ways. The cars tilt at improbable angles as the train gingerly negotiates corners. I love the roar and the rush of the trains and I really enjoy looking into the offices and apartments that are at eye level with "the L."

Riding the MBTA in Boston has similar sights but I don't recall seeing rooftop apartments whose fences literally abut the train tracks or whose view is basically the train tracks. That's pure Chicago. How cool!, I think as we twist and turn through the city and I see a man watering his rooftop garden, covered with colorful impatiens. I also see sunflowers growing in somebody's kitchen window.

But then a saner part of me reminds me that it's probably not that cool for those who must contend with the high-pitch screeching and the endless chug-chug-chug of the train all day and all night. But, hey, city living doesn't get any city-er than that, does it?, says my less-sane side.

Everybody I met in Chicago, from the woman at the subway station, to the CTA attendants, to the bus drivers, to the B&B host, to the people at the Newberry, was unfailingly polite and helpful. I was truly impressed that almost everyone getting on and off the bus rarely forgot to say their "good mornings" and "thank yous," which I rarely ever hear when I'm on the bus here in Ohio (especially when I'm riding with students in the buses at Ohio State!).

In contrast to other libraries I've visited since starting my dissertation, the library attendants at the Newberry were helpful and nice. Most were young women and I noticed, to my surprise, that I was actually the only woman doing research in the Special Collections Room on the two days I was there.

(I don't want to contribute the bad rap New Yorkers get, but earlier this year, at the New York Public Library, I was scolded by a librarian for getting a bit excited about actually holding Sophia Peabody's Cuba Journal, which dates to the 1830s. I think that if he could've rapped my knuckles with a ruler he would have done so. But instead, in his chilliest tone, he asked me if I'd ever handled old manuscripts before. Talk about a chubasco of ice water.)

At the Newberry, several disheveled and scholarly-looking men intensely discussed and intently examined a very old map, dating from the eighteenth century. One said he was on his way to England in his quest to figure out this map. I was curious and wanted to ask about this apparent mystery, but refrained and kept to my work.

I had my own excitement because I got to handle a few letters by Filipino patriot José Rizal, dating between the 1880s and 1890s. In one letter, he complained that in the Philippine town where he was staying there was no alcohol or glass jars in which to properly keep his collection of animal skulls and skeletons. "They've all succumbed to the mice," Rizal complained.

One of the reasons I simply love archival research is because it functions like a virtual time machine. On this trip, I was able to travel to the nineteenth century and visit with Rizal for a few minutes, without leaving the comfort of my Newberry chair and desk.

I also felt like an adventurer myself as I mapped out my own knowledge of the city. In that pursuit, I decided to take the bus to meet a family friend for breakfast yesterday. I may get lost in Ohio's darned cornfields, but I don't get lost in the city, I told myself self-assuredly. I asked for and got specific directions at the Newberry of how to take the bus, and early on Friday I walked a block to the stop and was promptly on my way.

Because the numbers kept getting bigger, I didn't worry at first. But when I saw that the numbers started getting smaller, I became concerned.

"I'm going to [the address of my friend]," I told the driver. "Am I on the right bus?"

"Yes and no," the driver answered with a smile. "You're on the right bus but going in the wrong direction. You're going south and you need to go north."

I groaned. I had already been on the bus for 20 minutes (what they'd said at the Newberry that it would take for the bus to get to my destination from the B&B) and I was smack in the middle of the city but on the opposite side of where I needed to be.

"Just get off at the next stop, walk east to the parallel street and take this bus going north," he instructed.

Good Puerto Rican that I am, I hate this "east" and "north" business. Just tell me right or left, please, I want to plead! But, of course, I don't.

I did as he said and called my friend to let her know that I would be late. When we had arranged our meeting the day before, she had advised that I take a cab. But I knew that taking the bus was cheaper and since I was on a graduate student grant, the bus it had to be.

Of course, after having to take two different buses instead of one, and another bus to return to the B&B after breakfast (her sister, who had offered to drive me back, could not do so at the later hour), the price tag was probably the same as if I'd taken a cab, like she had suggested.

But I don't count that episode as getting lost, just temporarily disoriented. Once I figured out what I was doing, I took the remaining buses with the confidence of an almost-Chicagoan. When I return to Chicago for a third time, which I hope will be sooner than in another decade, I surely will be rather smug about my well-earned city stripes.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Never too much Jane Austen

In case you missed the story in The New York Times, we Austen fans are in for the treat of our lives. Well, at least I hope it's close to that.

This celebratory mood stems from a report in the newspaper of record in this country that not only are there at least two more Austen-related feature films coming this year after "Becoming Jane" (which my bestest-of-friends KG and I are planning to see this weekend), but also Masterpiece Theater is going to kick off "an extravagant season" (I'm quoting from the article) titled "The Complete Jane Austen."

Now is that a reason for glee or what?

I must confess to the most incurable addiction to Jane Austen. Not only have I read Pride and Prejudice several times, but I have listened to the audiobook version at least thrice and I just now ordered it out of the library again. That was after listening to Emma on audiobook for the second or third time as well.

I've read and/or listened to every novel Austen published and I've watched (or tried to watch because the 1980 BBC Pride and Prejudice is unwatchable) every adaptation available several times. After the BBC released its A&E 1995 adaptation of the novel, my husband gave me the six-hour videotape collection, which I've watched in its entirety several times (of course, this was all way before the dissertation-writing period began!). And I've now watched the most recent 2005 P&P with Keira Knightley at least three times, too.

Back when I was a young girl, I perfected my accent by watching Masterpiece Theater in our little black-and-white TV in the back room of our house-behind-a-hospital in Puerto Rico. I loved Alistair Cooke's British accent and spent hours trying to imitate it until I got so that I sometimes can sound fairly persuasively English.

The silly part of all this is that since I have a good ear for accents, after listening to Austen on audiobook for hours I often pronounce English with what must sound like a Puerto Rican trying to speak the Queen's English like the Queen herself. Anyone who doesn't know me must think I'm a snob!

And while I'm currently listening and chuckling to E.M. Foster's A Room with a View (another favorite of mine) on audiobook, he's just not the same. Austen's often acerbic wit and her penchant for ridiculing characters, even those she ostensibly sets up as her heroines and heroes, is simply addictive.

Thus, I've concluded that now, more than ever, I must fast-track this darned dissertation.

The Masterpiece Theater extravaganza begins in January and I plan to spend every Sunday watching every single episode (well, that's as long as they adaptations are not utterly disastrous, like the recent absolutely awful PBS adaptation of Dracula, which was so terrible that I could not watch even a few minutes of it).

Oops! On that vein, I gotta get back to my chapter. Indeed!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Star chasers

Last night, my husband and I did what we never ever do, not to go to a show, or a club, or a bar, or a movie. We left the house at 10 o'clock and returned past 11:30 p.m.

We went out hunting for Perseids.

NASA had predicted that this year's meteor shower, the debris of the Swift-Tuttle Comet, would be "a great show," with one or two Perseids shooting through the Earth's atmosphere per minute at its peak (which, granted, was not to be until 1 a.m.). Those-who-know here said the hour between 10 and 11 p.m. would be good, too.

Encouraged by such promising expectations, we packed ourselves and Rusty into my car and drove out to the countryside, about 30 minutes away, as far as we could get from the nearby cities' light pollution.

My husband found the perfect spot in front of a very large corn field. We parked near a working oil rig, got out of the car in the almost-total darkness and stared up at the sky. I was psyched for quite the light show and tried not to mind the oil smell.

Rusty wondered what the heck we were doing.

Well, we spent about 12 minutes craning our necks and looking committedly up into the sky and turning on our axis to scan the entire Heavens every minute or so (we must have been quite the sight if there had been anyone to see us) but there was not one shooting star anywhere.

Nada, zero, zilch. A few tiny, little-red-lighted airplanes cruising the sky but not a single shooting star.

"C'mon," I whined to the Heavens. "Just one, OK? Just a little single one."

"The conditions are not good," my scientifically minded husband noted. "There are a lot of clouds and there's a lot of glare still. You see how much we can see of each other?"

He said we needed to be patient but standing in the middle of nowhere in near total darkness is as anathema to my city-girl nature as you can get so I was becoming uneasy quite rapidly. My unease ironically increased after a Good Samaritan, who went speeding by us on the lonely country road we had turned off from, did an about-face to nicely ask if we needed help.

What if some crazy red necks out on a joy ride decide to ruin our star-chasing night just for fun?, wondered the city-girl in me.

So, much to my husband's disappointment, we got in the car at about 11:15 p.m. and back on the road, heading home sans a single Perseid. I was feeling rather stupid for suggesting that this would be a good idea in the first place.

And that's when it happened.

A clear-as-day fireball shot through the murky, glare-lit sky right in front of us, shearing the dark like a sudden memory, and turning me into a giggling, silly child.

"We got one! We got one!" I exclaimed and my husband smiled.

OK, so this wasn't like when, about 13 years ago, my husband and I were in our then-home in the hills of Guaynabo, sitting outside on our hammock hanging in the long balcony, listening to the BBC on his short-wave radio. That night we saw more than half a dozen Perseids shoot through the blackened sky.

Or like the time, when I was a child, that my father stopped our car in the scraggy hills of Guánica and we got out to see the Heavens in display, sparkling like a large city seen from an airplane with a gazillion, shimmering points of light.

No, last night wasn't like any of those great memories. But I know that this one shinning Perseid blazed itself into our memory forever, just the same.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Visiting Cincinnati

Yesterday I was in Cincinnati in an all-girls' Day Trip to visit my gorgeous friend of tree-fame with my bestest-of-friends KG, and my great friend DM.

We first visited the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which I think is a must-see for everyone who lives in this country. None of my chica friends had been there before (I was there with my husband a year or so ago) and the four of us spent almost 3 hours walking through the three floors of exhibits, which the imposing building, set right next to the river, offers its visitors.

The exhibit that moves me the most there (where I feel enveloped by this preternatural sadness and am near weeping when I step into the structure) is the slave pen. Bruja that I fancy myself to be, I feel the strongest vibes coming from that building, filled with the greatest of sorrows and pain and loss.

But the center also gives you a sense of how, beyond all hope and against all odds, African-descended people (and others who have faced similar oppression) persevered and survived and overcame the racism (the institutionalized subjugation and disenfranchisement) that preceded slavery, went along with slavery and continued after slavery ended.

It is a place where one feels not only the horror of slavery but also the power of survivance, a term developed by Gerald Vizenor (Anishinaabe). Survivance unites the ideas of survival and resistance and examines how native texts "convey the continuance of stories that resist and confound dominant narratives of tragedy and victimization." I think survivance also describes the main theme of the center.

After our visit to the Freedom Center, we headed to the Findlay Market in the late afternoon, after the rush of the morning had ended and only a few vendors remained. Inside the market, we found the best cobbler ever in the history of cobblers. Aunt Flora's Cobbler House and Down Home Diner has become a must-eat-there place for me now anytime I find myself in Cincinnati. Next time, I'm going to make sure I try their fried fish and their fried chicken, too!

This time, however, I only brought back two cobblers. A medium-sized blackberry rectangular cobbler that my husband devoured in one sitting, and a small, round sweet potato cobbler that I'm exercising all my willpower not to eat in one sitting. I'm happy to report that it has now survived two nibbles: one yesterday and one today. Their peach cobbler, which is truly out-of-this-world, and of which I only got a small taste, is also next on my list to get from there.

Oh, and lest I forget, before we headed for the market, we all had lunch at Ambar, which has the best Indian food I've ever eaten, ever.

What a fun Saturday! The day boasted clear skies and little humidity, and I spent it with great girl-friends in a fascinating city. It doesn't get much better than that.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

My familiar

Just as I walked back into the house this morning with the dogs, the Cooper's hawk that hunts around our bird feeders was sitting placidly on the fence that divides our yard from our neighbor's.

Large as an upright cat but twice as majestic, with brown stripes on his chest and feathery white covers on his sharply clawed ankles, the hawk is not afraid of me. He barely glanced at me as he eyed a couple of small squirrels who were scurrying for cover. Only when I shooed him did he deign to look at me for one moment before he flew away, vanishing among the towering trees. But I know he left only because the squirrels were now successfully out of reach inside the leafy branches of our small apple tree.

Wow, to have the hawk's self confidence even in the face of heavy odds against you, I thought.

Yesterday, when I stopped at the bird food store to replenish my stock, the owners and I got into a conversation about hawks after I told them about our Cooper's.

"They are successful only one in 20 times," the owner said.

I commented that although I'd seen the hawk many times around our yard for the past few years, I'd never actually seen it catch anything. They suggested that it must be a juvenile, who's still learning the art of efficient and lightning-fast killing. But he (or she?) obviously is successful enough to be strong and healthy.

Juvenile or not, the hawk is an impressive sight and I love seeing it up close so often.

Many years ago, my Dream Reader told me that the reason I always dreamt about white sharks, Rottweilers, tigers, and other large predators was because these animals represented the strongest side of my personality. The side that draws strength from the constant struggle to overcome major odds. I liked that idea.

Recently, I was talking to a younger colleague who is very anxious about re-taking her doctoral exams.

"You're going into a tigers' den," I said, using that metaphor to describe how the exam is partly to show that one can hold one's own against five professors who are experts in one's field. "Think of yourself not as prey, because they'll smell that right away, but as a fellow tiger, even if a smaller and less powerful one."

She seemed to like the idea and said she'd call me before the exam so I could remind her that she's "a tiger."

After I left her, I realized how much I appreciate being in my 40s and being done with the soul-wringing search for a self that is confident in itself, which characterizes the 20s and the 30s of some of my best women friends and colleagues.

Today, seeing our Cooper's hawk, I again appreciated the beauty and inspiration that the strength and self-assuredness of a predator can bring, especially when we really are like fragile butterflies just edging out of their chrysalis.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

It's a dog's life

I can't get over the fact that Rusty will go right ahead and pee on a tree trunk or a fire hydrant just as Geni has her head near whatever he is aiming at, because she is sniffing to determine who was the last dog that came through.

Invariably, Geni gets sprinkled, if not downright wet, by Rusty's stream. Disgusting, I think. But she seems completely unfazed by his crass lack of consideration and walks away like nothing happened.

I wonder why she doesn't get annoyed, like I do when men leave the toilet seat up. You can tell a lot about a man by whether or not he puts the toilet seat down after he's done, and what such an action tells isn't all that good. I guess Rusty would be the kind of guy who always leaves the toilet seat up.

In his defense, though, Rusty does defer to Geni a lot, allowing her to walk in front of him and to push him off the particular spot she wants to be the first one to smell. He also allows her to be his scout, signaling new and exciting odors or an oncoming dog that must be barked at and shown who's boss in the neighborhood.

At this elderly stage of their lives, the rabbits are no longer chased and the cats, while eliciting some interest and excitement, are often completely missed. One calico cat in the neighborhood just has to crouch down into the grass and the dogs will walk by it, only a few feet away, as it were not there at all.

There's not doubt that Rusty and Geni, in their geriatric years now, make a cute pair with their increasingly graying faces and their slow, if bounding, gait and their obviously more-than-middle-aged girth.

"Are those your attack dogs?" One neighbor asked with a smile the other day from his car as he drove by us while we were walking the dogs in the early evening.

The dogs, with their hanging tongues almost touching the ground and with their goofy faces that say how much they love their walks, looked anything but dangerous and fierce. During an earlier walk a few weeks before, we'd told said neighbor that he could not pet them because they would probably bite him.

Point taken.

Geni is up for one more surgery in the coming weeks because she has another tumor on her left paw that must be removed. If it's not cancerous, it will grow until it makes her movements difficult (and she's already ailing from arthritis on her right paw) and if it is malignant, it needs to come off anyway. But we hate to put her through the stress and the possible problems of anesthesia, given her complicated medical history.

I'm almost always happier that I have dogs rather than children (especially since the dogs won't bring girlfriends or boyfriends I'll hate, or ever talk back to me, or leave me and go to college where they'll get into who-knows-what kind of trouble that I won't be able to save them from). But I do wish I could explain a few things to the dogs and have them understand me.

To Geni, I'd like to explain why we're going to have to send her to the torture house (the vet) to be carved up one more time. And to Rusty, I'd like to explain a few things about what it means to be a gentleman.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Another thing I love most about summer... picking my own herbs and vegetables from the garden so I can make homemade sofrito. I use the sofrito as a base to sautee along with the sazón and the sweet-as-pie red onions my mami recommended in my husband's Cuban-style black beans so they taste like glory.

This spring I went a little garden-store crazy and bought four or five Cubanelle sweet pepper plants to grow my own. Now, I have almost a dozen chartreuse-green sweet peppers hanging from tall plants that are threatening to overtake their flower bed, crowding out the rosemary and the basil I planted alongside them.

I took one of those aptly called Cubanelle peppers, a sweet-as-pie red onion (truly the best onions ever), two cloves of garlic, and four small sweet red peppers I bought at a specialty store and I Cuisinart-ed them all together with a few sprigs of my own fresh Italian cilantro and thyme. That yielded about 3/4 cups of sofrito, which smelled and tasted much better than the Goya brand I bought at the Latin@ products store recently, which has a bunch of preservatives and what-nots.

I remember how my Abuela Hebe, my mami's mom, used to make a world-famous sofrito that my mami always praised for its aroma and its ability to turn even the blandest dish into a feast of flavor.

Mine doesn't achieve such heights of culinary accomplishment but it's not a mean sofrito either. And I do love making it, especially watching my cute mini-Cuisinart blend all those flavors and textures and colors into an aromatic base that suffuses the kitchen with its tropical perfume.

While my peppers and my herbs are doing well this summer, my heirloom tomato is toast. When the wrecking crew came to tear down our pathetic excuse of a garage, they burned my little tomato plant with the exhaust of their machinery.

"Did the little tomato plant perish during the wrecking process?" I asked the man driving the guilty-as-sin machine.

"Perish?" He asked, clearly missing the point of what I was trying to ask.

"Died. Did the little tomato plant die during the wrecking process?" I corrected myself.

"Hey [Joe, or some such name], can the exhaust of this thing kill a tomato plant?" he asked his partner in crime.

I didn't stay to hear the expert's answer. My burned and almost leaf-less plant was evidence enough to answer that question. I transplanted the poor plant to the flower bed with the pepper plants, and it did well for the rest of the day, recovering some of its color and shape. I naively thought that I could save it from total extinction.

That night, as I slept in the innocence of the ignorant, something, some one of the many possible quadruped culprits that inhabit my backyard, pulled my heirloom tomato from its roots, broke the root ball apart and unceremoniously ate the entire plant, leaving only the lonely plant-less roots as evidence of its tomato-cide.

No fresh heirloom tomatoes for me this summer. But I've learned my tomato-planting lesson, that's for sure.

I have to say that construction crews are not the friendliest to herb and vegetable gardens. For some as-yet-unexplained reason, the idiot who delivered the lumber that was used to build our new garage (which sits half-finished as we speak with mysterious ladders placed against its walls and evidence of half-hearted sweeping but no further action on its lonely framed structure) dropped the tons of lumber on top (yes, on top) of the huerto.

There went my asparagus, my husband's pumpkins (which he tries to grow each year, albeit unsuccessfully, with the hope that we'll carve our own on Halloween) and one of my Italian cilantro plants (the survivor is growing in an unlikely space between the concrete driveway and the raised bed of the huerto). What kind of an idiot fails to notice an herb and vegetable garden in full growth? I don't want to imagine.

In any event, wrecking crews and idiotic lumber suppliers cannot sour my glee. Right now, I'm quite content that I made my first batch of homemade sofrito of the summer. Hopefully, I'll be able to make at least one more batch before the cool of October rolls around, announcing that another fresh herb and vegetable season is ending.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The chewing squirrel

We must have about 20 or so gray squirrels that feast themselves on the bird seed I distribute each morning in both the front and back of our house. Some are smarter than others.

We have this one squirrel (well, I hope it's just one) who's a chewer. We've often caught it (him? her?) gnawing at the black plastic cover of the electric cable that goes from the house to an electricity post in the back alley. Not a good idea, to say the least, especially for the squirrel who risks becoming fried squirrel. But also for those of us who must run the air conditioning on a daily basis in 90-plus-degree weather.

My husband recently espied what was likely the same idiotic squirrel gnawing at our gutter in the highest point of the house. It gnawed and gnawed until he shooed her away by yelling from the ground.

And, today, my husband again had to shoo a chewing squirrel who had decided that the bark of our new young and gloriously beautiful green Japanese Maple was its tasty morsel. My husband yelled and shooed until he actually had to go outside and chase the chewing squirrel away!

I know young dogs need to chew on things and I remember how a not-yet-two-years-old Rusty gnawed at the corners of the wood benches on our covered patio in Puerto Rico. He also had a favorite ratty toy, Bojangles, which came with him when we rescued him. Rusty loved to chew on that ugly thing and he'd fetch it just as many times as you threw it for him to get until he became older and wiser and Bojangles disappeared (probably taken away by some squirrel, except we don't have squirrels in Puerto Rico).

But squirrels who chew electric wires, gutters and the bark of young, recently planted trees? I'd never heard of that before. I hope that just as it was with Rusty, this is just a phase for that hopefully young and stupid squirrel.

If not, that squirrel (and I hope it's the same one and not an epidemic of chewing ones!) is going to be at war with us for a long, long time.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The month of peaches

August may be blistering as hell here (we're looking at seven straight days in the 90s this week) but it's also the month of peaches, so I'll forgive it anything.

For one, I'll pardon August the fact that the cicadas start shaking their maracas and sounding like a loose pack of rattlesnakes at 8 in the morning. That's one way you know that the day will be a scorcher.

I'll even absolve August of the fact that my miramelindas end each day wilted and unhappy because of the relentless heat and humidity and I must come to the rescue with the hose almost every other day.

Oh, and lest I forget, I'll even write off the fact that in August the cicadas begin to leave their horrid mummified shells stuck to everything from my car's tire to the front door, making me shriek every time I think one might even graze me (even though it's totally dead).

I'll overlook anything that's August-like because of the peaches.

Last night I made a Belle of Georgia open-face peach pie with fresh Ohio peaches that my bestest-of-friends KG got for me at the farmer's market.

"That sounds like it comes from Martha Stewart," she said when I told her the pie's name.

And she was right. The recipe is from my trusty Martha Stewart Pies & Tarts book, which was my introduction into the world of making pies many years ago as part of a pie-making kit my husband gave me.

The Belle of Georgia (in this case it's more like a Belle of Ohio) is a gloriously flirty pie because it relies on the beauty and ripeness of sweet unpeeled sliced peaches to do the work for it. The flaky buttery crust becomes the icing on the cake (which in this case is, of course, a pie).

I hope KG likes her half of the peach Belle. My half was pretty scrumptious when I had a slice today, although (truthfully) the peaches would have been just as good, if not better, on their own.

Fresh peaches are one very persuasive reason for putting up with August, a month so parched and humid here that it becomes a fitting prelude for fall because by the time it's over we can't help but yearn for cooler days and nights.

But August, as long as I get to revel in your peaches, I'll excuse all of your cranky Augustness.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Mi isla bonita

Armed with my trusty digital camera, I recently tried to capture some of the breathtaking beauty that abounds en mi isla.

The flamboyán, with its silk-soft García Lorca-green leaves and lipstick-red flowers is one or our very favorite sights.

I don't know the name for these next three flowers, but their vibrant colors also jumped out at the camera lens.

The early-afternoon-sun yellow canarias are another favorite of mine. I also captured two near relatives whose identity I don't know.

In the southwestern part of the island, this blue bird looking for his breakfast in the blue sea called my attention as did the ubiquitous lagartos, which are a fraction of the size of, but can easily pass for, Komodo Dragons.

The lagartijos, another ubiquitous species, are always up to something mischievous.

Another entertaining and happiness-inducing bird is the reinita, or little queen, with her black feathers and bright yellow chest and melodious chirping. This one uses my parents' bird bath as her own private pool.

You can't miss the bounty of mangoes or coconuts everywhere in the summer. Beware of parking underneath palm trees! And beware of walking on fallen, ripe mangoes!

Another constant sight on the island: rather homely pollos, or as my husband corrected: gallinas y gallos (because they're only pollos when they're ready to be served at the table) running away from passing cars on either side of the winding roads of mi isla bonita.