Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Two days and counting

I'm left a little dizzy when I think that 2008 has only two days (well, at this point more like one and 3/4) to go. I'm always taken by surprise with how fast a year can go, how time appears to speed up as we get older, something like the reverse of what happens to time as you approach the speed of light. Now that I'm in my late 40s, instead of time slowing down, it seems to want to rush ahead like it's late to an appointment.

Today is the first day since the fall semester ended that I have nothing immediately pressing to do (well, other than prepare for next semester, which I've already started doing), and I can actually look at the day as it spreads before me and choose what I want to do.

First and foremost, of course, will be the gym and then maybe I'll go catch a movie at the large mall that's about 50 minutes away (I welcome those long trips as a good excuse to listen to the NPR podcasts I download into my new purple Nano). Getting to the movie theater at least a couple of times is something I'd like to accomplish during these next 2 weeks before classes resume again.

I've also registered for a yoga class Saturday morning at the yoga center I used to attend when I was still a graduate student at my humongous university. That'll be before I get my hair done that day, and perhaps I'll get to squeeze in a visit with my wonderful friend KG.

At home, all is as it should be. Yesterday, Magellan took advantage of a sunny spot on our bed to sun herself. And, today, the squirrels are gorging themselves on bird and squirrel food (as captured by my husband above).

Darwin is, of course, poised in front of the large picture window in the living room, dreaming of the chance to pounce on the sinvergüenza squirrels, who have no shame or restraint and who seem to love to taunt the poor cat, who can be heard bumping into the glass window now and then when he gets overly excited and optimistic and forgets the laws of physics.

Tomorrow, on the last day of the year, we'll inevitably reminisce about these past 364 days filled with challenges and changes and movings on and moves and transformations and farewells. But more on that tomorrow. Today, everything is as it should be.

Monday, December 29, 2008

We are family

Today was a sunny day, warm for the winter we've been having, and my husband took his camera and went off in search of good blogging photos for me. His search brought him to these sycamores, stretching their whitened arms toward the bluest of winter skies.

I spent the day getting organized after having been away for the weekend in Memphis, TN, visiting with my family. My brother lives there with his wife and three children, ages 17 to 8, and my sister came from Maryland, with her three children, ages 16 to 9. My parents flew from Puerto Rico and we all convened at my brother's new and spacious home.

I ate so much this weekend that this morning I rushed to the gym to attempt to get back in shape before my new semester starts in two weeks' time. There's a lot of calories from fat to burn not only because of the Chik-fil-A Chick-n-minis I ate for breakfast (even after I had had breakfast at the hotel with my parents Saturday morning) but because we all pigged out that afternoon at Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken, which is a must-go when in Memphis. I not only happily stuffed myself with five gloriously fried chicken wings, plus two large scoops of perfect mashed potatoes, but I also topped it off with a sweet potato pie that while it failed to reach my anticipated levels of scrumptiousness (I've had much better in Cincinnati) did do the trick of placing a perfect punto final to a deliciously fattening meal.

My sister-in-law had prepared two bottles of perfect coquito, just the way I like it with very little rum, which my sister and I downed like tomorrow would never come. I actually don't even care if the drink has rum in it, I just crave the mix of coconut, condensed, and evaporated milks, spiced up with cinnamon and a teaspoon of vanilla. You can imagine the calorie count on that one, though.

Over the weekend, the whole family gathered often around the kitchen table not just to eat but also to play "Catchphrase," at which my youngest, 8-year-old nephew excels, and "Apples to Apples," a game that has given me the reputation of being the "worst judge in the world" because I "cheat" (that is, I give the win to the littlest ones, usually, or the ones who are losing miserably). We also sang our lungs off to the tunes of the Jesus Christ Superstar musical and, of course, told many stories of the kids as they were growing up, and of ourselves when we were children.

On Sunday, the Puerto Rican pasteles that my mom express-mailed were brought out of the freezer and were boiled to perfection, accompanied by my mom's white rice. I ate two pasteles, huge as Cadillacs, with two servings of white rice. My sister and I finished off the last of the coquito. And I played with my youngest niece and nephew and her plastic wobbly-headed large-eyed oddly colored menagerie.

I was Magellan, The Queen, a white, blue-eyed cat that wears a tiara and pink shades, while my youngest nephew was the valiant Taco, a chihuahua, on a pink skateboard.

"You are my knight in shining armor," I told Taco, while playing the part of Magellan, The Queen.

"I don't want to be a knight!" he protested.

"Being a knight is a good thing," I explained.

"I want to be El Zorro!" he insisted.

"OK," I relented, "You'll be Taco El Zorro!"

He was appeased and continued playing, while my crafty youngest niece did her best, in the guise of a very well-groomed gray squirrel, to topple the reign of Magellan, The Queen.

My mother loves it when we all gather together because of the memories we make, and even during the few days I was there, we sure made a lot of good, happy memories. Of course, the din and the noise and the ruckus is beyond anything I can describe, and so different from our quiet, rather sedate life here that I sometimes feel like running and hiding, but it's sure worth it for the memories, as my mami says.

I hate traveling and don't enjoy being long away from my husband, who stays behind to man our house and tend to the furry children, so while I was sad to see my brother, sister and mother walk away from the security gate when they dropped me off yesterday, I was not sorry to get back home to my quieter routines. For me, the best part of traveling is returning to home base.

Still, I am truly blessed to have such a large, boisterous, close, and loving family, and for that I give thanks each and every day. And while I am now back in Ohio and won't be with them in Memphis (for New Year's Eve, my mom, sister and sister-in-law are planning a turkey dinner, which I'm sure will be para chuparse los dedos), when we put this year to rest and open our eyes to 2009, they will be with me, filling my heart with gladness, just as if we were all together, always.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The coldest day of the year

Yesterday, the first official day of winter, was not only the shortest but also the coldest day of the year here. When my husband, Dr. S and I left around 8:30 p.m. to a neighbor's solstice party, the thermometer read 1 degree and the windchill made it feel like it was at -21 degrees. Needless to say, I hadn't left the house for the entire day.

While it felt like hell had finally frozen over, it was a mostly sunny day, so my husband picked up his good camera, cleaned the kitchen picture window, and poised himself there to chronicle the many birds that were constantly flitting in and out, trying to keep themselves warm by eating up anything edible they could find.

That's how my husband got these awesome pictures: of a Titmouse landing, working for his dinner by splitting open a seed, and then being buffeted by the gale-like winds.

And this one, of a chickadee and a Titmouse sharing the feeder for a moment.

Or these two of the red-bellied woodpecker eyeing him warily.

Or this one of an annoyed nuthatch wondering why my husband was interrupting his feeding with his rude ogling.

This morning, the temperature is 4 degrees, and the thermostat in our otherwise overly warm apartment is struggling to get over 64 degrees. Winter has arrived with a vengeance.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Magellan vs. The Little Kitchen Rug

The little rug on the floor in front of our kitchen sink is Magellan's enemy. And, almost daily, Magellan lets the rug know who's boss in the house. That the little rug has happy kitties on it may just be coincidence, but I like to think Magellan (as smart as she is!) knows she's picking a fight with other cats that can't fight back.

Yesterday, while I was petting Geni, my husband decided to chronicle Magellan's fight to the death with the rug. The rug didn't stand a chance.

After Magellan vanquishes the little rug, she walks smugly away, leaving the rug all scrunched up on the floor, as if to show us her prowess as a warrior kitty.

On Tuesday we took both Magellan and Darwin to their first visit to our new vet, and were relieved to find out that they're both doing very well, health wise. Magellan, we were surprised to learn, is not the fatso we thought, and is only overweight by about one pound.

She does have cataracts in her eyes, which the vet said might eventually cause blindness. He said there is an operation to restore sight for pets, which costs $3,000. As I told my mom, if Magellan se queda cieguita, cieguita se queda because we sure don't have that kind of money. Hopefully, she'll keep her eyesight for a long time yet. At 9 years old, Magellan is quite the dowager cat at the equivalent of sixty-odd human years.

Darwin, on the other hand, is in such great health that while he is chronologically 7 years old, his body is in the shape of a cat half his age. I'm sure Darwin would boast about this to his friends, if he could talk, and if he had any friends. He keeps trying to persuade Dr. S to pet him, by acting as cute as he can whenever she's around, probably knowing full well that she's terribly allergic to cats.

As for me, I'm done with the teaching and meetings part of this crazy busy semester, which ended Friday. I still have mountains of grading to get through, which I hope to at least get half done today so that the holiday week isn't consumed with work.

Last night, I was so intent on giving myself a break that when we returned from the big city, where we ran errands and had a short, if lovely, lunch with my friend KG, her husband and their new baby, I decided to make a meatloaf. That was around 8 o'clock at night. Then I decided to watch a rather silly movie I've seen about 4 or 5 times before, "Love Actually," which is set during the holidays. I pined for the A&E "Pride and Prejudice," which I had borrowed from the public library of the tiny town where my small college on the hill is located, but had to return unseen yesterday because someone else had requested it. That one, which runs about 6 hours, I've seen maybe 6 or 7 times?

After the meatloaf was done, around 9 p.m., I decided that my husband needed holiday cookies so I started the dough for those and will bake them later this afternoon. During breaks from cooking and from movie-watching, I graded one final paper, which left me with 24, 12- to 14-page papers, to start on today. Although grades aren't due until next weekend, I'm not one to wait until the last minute. Thus, since I have no other cooking projects to embark on, it's time to quit procrastinating and bite the proverbial bullet.

Although (for many reasons) I don't particularly relish the process of grading, I do enjoy reading my students' papers. I'm especially looking forward to these batches because they all worked hard on drafting and revising. That means I've seen previous iterations of most of the papers and am confident that they should be quite good in their final versions. That's a treat when you have so many to read.

Once I'm done, I'll be able to say goodbye to this craziest-busiest of semesters, and look forward to the break, as well as to whatever next year brings (even the unavoidable grading!). One thing I know for sure, come rain or come shine, Magellan today will have another fight with her version of Moriarty: The Little Kitchen Rug.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Happy Birthday, Jane Austen!

Yesterday my wonderful friend KG e-mailed early in the morning to inform me that it was Jane Austen's birthday. I immediately notified Dr. S and, to celebrate, she and I decided to watch "The Jane Austen Book Club" at her place that evening. We toasted Austen with a Beaujolais Nouveau that Dr. S selected for the occasion, and I contributed star-shaped sugar cookies that weren't half bad. Dr. S also served delicious chocolate-chip and chocolate-M&M cookies selected by her mom.

I know KG would've loved to join us, but she's now a brand new mom, and no longer mistress of her time, and she lives about an hour away so it was not to be this time. But it was she who inspired us.

Dr. S and I had both seen the movie before (I saw it a while back with KG at the dollar theater, I think), but it is a fitting tribute to Jane Austen, plus it was a treat for me because Dr. S is quite the Austen and film expert. Thus, I could clarify some of my own doubts about the meaning of some characters and the reason behind certain scenes. It's always a pleasure to be with someone who can enlighten you without making you feel ignorant or inadequate.

In the movie, the character who represents Emma, played by Maria Bello, starts off grieving the death of one of her dogs with a full funeral. To distract her from her depression, her friends come up with the idea of a book club, which then becomes even more important once another character (who represents Fanny Price) has her husband walk out on their 20-year marriage.

"Hey, you didn't start a book club to help me get me over Rusty's death!" I told Dr. S in a mockingly accusatory tone.

"Hey, I cooked for you and took care of you the best I could," she retorted with a smile.

Of course, it's preposterous that someone would come up with the idea of a book club to help someone else get over the death of an adored pet. But what's not preposterous is having a good friend, who did cook for and tend to me the evening that my husband drove to West Virginia to bury Rusty. That's as precious a gift from heaven as they come. For her part, and in her truly thoughtful way, KG sent me a heartfelt condolence card and she made a donation to the local animal shelter in Rusty's name.

Austen's novels are as concerned with marriage and families as they are with relationships between women, whether they are mothers and daughters, sisters or potential sisters-in-law, or friends. In high school, and through college, most of my best friends were men. I remember how my father quipped about the fact that, on most Friday nights, I left the house to hang out with a group of 4 boys, and I was the only girl. Back then, I didn't have the savvy to see why that might be perceived wrongly, and bless his soul, while my dad did, he didn't mind.

At this stage of my life, however, I'm blessed with strong and rewarding friendships with women, all of them younger than I am, but all of them special and wonderful and fun. It's as if I've gotten to have my own little Austen world, finally.

I guess the best thing about last night was that we had a very Austenesque evening. There we were, two smart, independent sister-friends, enjoying each other's company, doing something we both like to do, having a girly-girl evening in her honor. I'd like to think that Austen would've approved.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Wild, wonderful West Virginia

Yesterday was likely the last best day of this winter, which is already full blown even when it hasn't even officially started. With temperatures reaching beyond the 50-degree mark, my husband, Geni and I all got into my trusty Scion early Sunday morning and went West Virginia bound. This was likely the last time this year that the weather would enable us to make the almost three-hour trip to visit with my parents-in-law at "The Hill," as their four-acre compound is affectionately known.

All week, my husband worked diligently to make a cement grave marker for Rusty, creating his own mold, carving the concrete to spell out his name and then painting the name in black for contrast. Once we arrived, we placed the small concrete block on top of the grave my husband dug for Rusty 2 weeks ago, and which my wonderfully thoughtful mother-in-law covered with evergreen branches. My husband also planted a walnut tree (where the white plastic stick is) so that Rusty will someday have his own little tree grove.

I was happy to see that the view from Rusty's resting place is perfect for him, since not only did he love to sit there in life, looking upon what I'm sure he saw as his dominion, but he is now an eternal part of these rolling hills that he loved and enjoyed so much.

I was worried that Geni would be disoriented once we got there because she always visited The Hill with Rusty and was his devoted scout on all of their joint adventures, but she seemed pretty content, if a little cold because of the winds, which made it feel a lot colder than the temperature reading. She enjoyed lying in the sun a lot, although her favorite spot is under an old camper that is now used for storage. My mother-in-law is such a great Abuela of Dogs that she actually set down warm coverings under the camper (not a mean feat, let me tell you) so Geni would be more comfortable and would not get muddy.

I think Geni is enjoying all the extra attention and love and petting that she's getting now that she's an Only Dog. And she makes it so easy for us by being such a loving, easy-going doggie. The Ying to Rusty's Yang, as our new vet said recently. That photo below, of her adoring my husband, is pretty typical of her. She especially likes to press her point by pawing my husband until he rubs her ears, and then she moans contentedly.

It was a short visit since we had to get on the road before darkness fell and the chances of hitting a deer skyrocket, especially around our small college on the hill, but it was well worth it. We visited with my parents-in-law, visited with Rusty, who I'm sure misses us but is happy roaming his erstwhile loved hills, and Geni got to run around and sun herself a little. It was the nicest day yet of this so-sad winter, which hasn't even officially begun.

Friday, December 12, 2008

What do cats do when there are no squirrels around?

This is Magellan's box, full of ripped packing tissue.

Darwin prefers the rocking chair, and pressing against the cat pillow.

What these pictures, taken by my husband, mean, is that tonight, roughly around 11 p.m. or so, when we collapse exhausted onto our bed, Magellan and Darwin will be chasing each other and roaring through the small apartment, like an approaching herd of wild horses.

I say let sleeping cats lie!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Darwin vs. The Squirrel, Part 2

Here's the Squirrel looking for Darwin so she can taunt him...

Later, she seems to be meditating her next move.

Today, my husband took these priceless pictures, and then had to move the bird feeder because the squirrel was doing her high-flying circus act, throwing herself onto the feeder, which hangs from the ceiling outside the large picture window in the living room, and then shaking all the seed to the ground.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

El Crismas espiri

Today, when poor Geni will have spent nearly 12 hours at her most-feared place (the vet's) having her glucose charted so we can find out why her insulin injections aren't bringing her blood sugar levels down, I decided to raid the Martha Stewart Living aisles at Kmart in search of some cheery Christmas Spirit.

Once in their Christmas Shop, I was like a child in a candy store, albeit one on a very limited budget. Thus, I didn't actually do a lot of raiding, but I did get a few cute (to me) decorations, like this tiny tree, its tiny ornaments, its tiny tree-top angel, and the tiny, shiny tinsel wreath.

I was a little dismayed this weekend when we went to our storage place to get the Christmas decorations only to find that they are absolutely inaccessible. Christmas has always been an important holiday in my family, and I guess I've grown up with the need to deck my halls. I was looking at a rather (and already) sad Christmas without the decorations I've collected over the years, one more casualty of being in an interim place until we sell our house and/or find a new house for ourselves.

That's why TV advertising works because I recently saw a Kmart ad for the MSL ornaments and decided to pay them a visit. Say what you may, Martha Stewart has impeccable taste so I knew I wouldn't go wrong, and I'm quite happy with the results.

This includes even hanging ornaments on the only tropical plant that can live in the apartment (thanks to Darwin, who likes to graze on everything else - notice that the points of the plant have been cut because Darwin munched the ones he could reach) in a very Puerto Rican way.

My poor husband, who's quite the Scrooge when it comes to Christmas, again showed how much he loves me by humoring me and not only hanging the pretty, colored LED lights that I got on sale at the drugstore, but also by taking pictures of all my new Christmas decorations so I could show them in this post. I guess he'll go along with anything that makes me blog "about happier things," as he said when he sent me the photos by e-mail.

For better or worse, decking our tiny apartment with the tiny Christmas decorations today made me smile all afternoon long, and that alone is worth their weight in gold. Now let's hope Darwin doesn't discover the tiny tree and the tiny ornaments. At least he can't chew on the LED lights or the candle lights, like he tried to munch on the tree lights we had a few years ago, the last ones we ever had on an inside tree thanks to him.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Darwin vs. The Squirrel

Guess who's winning?

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Mourning is hardest in winter. Especially winter in Ohio. While tomorrow marks a week since Rusty left us, not a day, not a moment, elapses that I don't miss that willful, ornery dog. I guess that is the truest of loves: when you can say, knowing how difficult the loved one was, that you'd happily do it all over again.

Like Poe's poet in "The Raven," I wish I could will Rusty back to life, healthier and younger than he was, to spare him all that pain he had in the end. But with all his faults and liabilities intact. He was his own dog, not what anyone else wanted him to be. And I always admired that, even when he drove me crazy.

However, in answer to my wish, my own internal raven whispers: "Nevermore."

I've always had a fascination with cemeteries, and there are a few in this blog that I've visited before, but this very old one on top of a hill beckoned us today, when my husband and I went out to run a few errands and to find winterscapes for this post.

In this very old cemetery, where the newly fallen snow was untrodden and pristinely white, we found very old graves, mostly of children and adolescents, but also of marriages: one stone marked, "Mother" and another, "Father."

This row of headstones seemed to lead to the road out of the cemetery, or perhaps the road that lead into the cemetery seemed to end at the row of headstones.

We visited a moment with "Elizibeth," who left her loving parents at age 6, in 1844, but whose headstone is still legible, and tells her story's end.

But along with the cemetery, we also saw a lot of the life that flourishes, and a lot of the living that's done in winter, including these beautiful white horses against the white snow, nibbling beneath the ice for the green remnants of grass.

My husband started planning the stone he'll make to lay on top of Rusty's grave in West Virginia, and sometime in the next few weeks we'll go down there to visit his parents, and I'll get to see the place where Rusty now sleeps the sleep of the blessed.

Winter is so hard for mourning. Especially a winter that has begun so early, like this one. But the best part of winter is that it must obligatorily move aside for spring, just like death must give way to life. On the day Rusty died, a friend adopted a rescued, abused dog, one that had been written off as unadoptable. One that would've been put down, if he hadn't taken her.

In my life's experience, whenever one door closes, another opens. That's why mourning, while necessary and unavoidable, is inevitably also tempered by joy.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The silence of absence

The hardest thing to bear about absence is the silence. And Rusty, I realized last night, was such a noisy dog! Much, much noisier than Geni.

Last night, I had a hard time going to sleep because I didn't hear his noises. I was always so attuned to his sounds, alert to any sign of distress or pain. So I got used to all his noises. His deep sighs after he'd turned around on his beloved bed enough times before he plopped down and made himself comfortable. His scratching of ears, or slurping of paws, or his loud snoring, or heavy breathing, or his rabies-tag clinking against his collar each time he moved.

Or his moans when he stretched, or his occasional hacking, or his very loud and long lapping at the water bowl in the kitchen (we often joked that he was more of a dromedary). Or his often-explosive farts, which used to make him spring up from the floor with surprise (and could've been used as chemical weapons). Or even the low, sad, whimpering sounds he was making more and more often lately.

Rusty is the closest being to myself, in terms of physicality, that I have lost. Other loved ones have died in my family: my grandfather many years ago, my grandmother on my mother's side when I was in college, and, more recently, my abuelita. But by the time they left, they were not as constant and tangible a presence in my life as Rusty has been for the past 13 years.

Each time I think of him there is this hollowness in my chest that I feel I could distill into pure, unadulterated grief. If I could distill the feeling, it would come out as a thick, indigo blue liquid, that glowed and smelled like loss. I know I can't compare his loss to the loss of a human child. But I imagine that this emptiness (if much worse) is what a mother might feel when she loses a teenage son, and Rusty was as close to that for me as I'll ever get.

Last night, before I finally fell asleep, I heard the tinkling of the chimes outside my window. It wasn't a windy night, and the tinkling had an odd insistence, like it wanted me to pay attention. Then the chime played a lovely, odd, melody for a few seconds, and then went still for the rest of the night.

As impossible as it is, I'm going to be Poe-esque and think that the chimes were touched by Rusty's spirit, on its way to meeting up with his awaiting wolf pack in eternity. That he came to say adiós to his mami. And that, wherever he is, he knows that he was the beloved dog-son of a loving, grieving mother, who will know no other kind of son.

Monday, December 1, 2008

In memoriam

Rusty García Oliver 1994-2008

About half an hour ago, Rusty left us, leaving behind his loving parents, and grandparents, his sister, Geni, and his (largely oblivious) cat cousins, Magellan and Darwin.

I want to remember Rusty the way he was in this 2005 photo. The goofy-looking, yellow dog, who adored his walks, and who loved chasing my husband's motorcycle up and down the hill of my in-laws' finca in West Virginia. That's where my husband will lay him to rest later this evening, so that his spirit, no longer fettered by illness (physical and mental), will roam at will.

I want to remember Rusty by the fun he had anytime he got in the car. He liked to go anywhere (well, except perhaps to the vet), and it didn't matter if I just pulled the car out of the garage and out into the driveway, he'd be game for the ride. He especially liked the long trips to West Virginia because he somehow sensed that he was going to his favorite place, and the look of joy on his face, his large grin of contentment, was contagious.

I want to remember the much-younger Rusty, the supposed Labrador Retriever mix, who may have had webbed paws, but who absolutely abhorred water, and never once enjoyed a bath. But he did love to retrieve his ball, and up to his last days played with a ball, even if it meant retrieving it only once before he had to sit back down to gnaw happily on it.

I want to remember the much-younger Rusty who loved to run in circles at very high speeds just because it felt good to do so. We'd take him to the beach in Puerto Rico so he could run off leash, and we also took him to a park near our house, and he just loved to chase imaginary cats as fast as he could.

I want to remember the much-younger Rusty who took possession of our house the minute he stepped into it, an abused, mange-covered, scrawny dog, who would later learn to do his "civil disobedience," as my husband called it. When my husband wanted him to sleep outside, under the covered patio, Rusty would just lie down and go limp so he had to be dragged outside by his collar. He sure wasn't going to cooperate with the eviction, since he believed he should be inside with us.

I want to remember the Rusty who loved his "Bojangles," an ugly, dismembered, stuffed toy that came with him when we rescued him, and which he carried around in his mouth everywhere until it was mysteriously lost.

I want to remember the Rusty who used to walk behind the teeny tiny Magellan, newly arrived at our house at only three weeks old in 1999, and the way he would look up at us now and then, wondering what on earth we'd brought with us. I was always surprised at how quickly Rusty understood that Magellan, and later, Darwin, were part of the family, and were not to be chased or hurt.

I want to remember the Rusty whose eyes always seemed wise and sad and like there was a sapient soul trapped inside, one that wanted so much to speak and tell its stories.

I want to remember the Rusty who ran alongside me and my husband, back when he could run long distances. He wasn't a good dog to run with, though, because, true to his always willful character, he would veer off unpredictably to smell and pee on something.

I want to remember the Rusty who lived to eat chicken in any shape or form (including live, if the story of why he was tied up by his abusive owner is to be believed), until he developed a protein allergy that prevented him from eating it. But at least he got his expensive duck treats, which he relished like a true gourmand.

I want to remember Rusty as the "Ruster Buster," the Cocho Cocho, the Pocho Pocho, my Choco Lindo, my Papasote, my constant companion and friend of the past 13 years. So much of my life during that time has revolved around this dog that I'm going to feel disoriented and lost for a while, now that he's no longer with me. I can't even comprehend tomorrow morning without having to feed and walk him.

But you know what I've discovered about death? That it will not triumph as long as those who move on live within our memory. That's why my abuelita doesn't feel gone to me. And that's why Rusty will live in me as long as I do.

When Rusty dreamed, he often barked in his sleep and twitched his legs, and I liked to think that he was running with wolves, and chasing everything that moved on four legs: deer, squirrels, rabbits, and his very favorite, cats.

I want to think that Rusty is now free to race the wolves for real. Run, Rusty, run!

Resquietat in pace. Descansa en paz.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Counting blessings

This is what my abuelita looked like last year, in March, the second-to-last time I saw her. She was 97 years old, half blind and deaf, and almost rail thin. This was her balcony, which always brimmed with the plants and canastas that had been her pride, where her rosal of sweet smelling pink roses grew alongside its walls and climbed her always-white rejas.

My abuelita simply adored Thanksgiving. During the time my husband and I lived in Puerto Rico, when she was still willing to come out of her house, he'd go get her and bring her to our house in Guaynabo where she'd enjoy the feast with us, alongside my parents. When she no longer went out, then we'd make a special trip to bring her the carne negra (the dark meat) and the pescuezo (all those strange body parts that come in a plastic bag inside the turkey, which no one ever eats, but which I would sear for her in the oven).

She also especially loved cranberry sauce and the mashed potatoes. Like me, when it came to Thanksgiving, she was quite the purist, that abuela of mine, especially when in many Puerto Rican households the turkey is stuffed, not with bread, but with carne guisada (cooked ground beef) and the menu is further (and strangely) Puerto Ricannized in other ways.

This is the first Thanksgiving in all of my adult life that I won't be, at the very least, calling my abuela. I haven't yet erased her phone number from my cellphone, and perhaps I won't at all. It's not like I can call her anymore but it's still nice to see her name at the top of my phone list under "Abuela." I wish there was a way I could call her today and wish her a Happy Thanksgiving. But I think that, despite the fact that we'll never again talk over the phone, she knows I think of her and will miss her for the very rest of my days.

This Thanksgiving finds me not in Puerto Rico, like so many others, but in Ohio, where my husband and I will go to my Puerto Rican colleague-friend's house to celebrate with her husband, her mother, and her kids. I've made the apple pie, from scratch, of course, and my husband has made his world-famous sangría, and I will make the mashed potatoes later this afternoon, about an hour or so before we sit down to eat.

There is much I have to give thanks for today. And I actually give thanks each and every day of my life, for both the good and the bad, the happy and the sad. Because we wouldn't appreciate the light so much if there wasn't darkness.

Today I'll give extra thanks for my wonderful husband, for my loving, and close-knit family, for my husband's family, for my friends, for my students and colleagues, for my place of work, for being healthy and strong and able, for my furry children and my wild birds, and the squirrels and the opossum and the munchkins (the chipmunks) and the deer, and for everything that has touched and not touched my life.

Today le doy gracias a Dios for everything my life is and isn't, for everything I have and don't have, for everything that is present and missing. Ultimately, I couldn't possibly ask for more, and I know that is the truest blessing.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Monday, November 24, 2008

November colors

"November is a brown month," my husband groused recently. But this November has tended much more toward the brownish gray, since it's been a lot colder (about 20 degrees) than normal, making me quake at the thought of the below zero temperatures that January might bring.

While my husband and I try not to mind the browns and the grays and the rainy, dark and cold days like today, for the furry beings in this house it's all business as usual.

I captured Magellan's preferred pleasure in this, her very favorite pose of late fall and winter: crawling onto my husband's chest (that's his red shirt) and snuggling herself onto a tight, pudgy ball on top of him where she will remain for hours, purring up a storm and, if he's working on his laptop, registering her displeasure at his interrupting her beauty sleep by biting his hand.

Darwin's favorite place is the guest room bed, where he has the stuffed animals (Lanty Poo and Sissy Poo), which he sexually assaults, pretending they're female cats that he's mounting. Very disturbing to see. In this pose, however, he was just lying against the cushion, and it was hard to tell which one was the real cat.

Rusty, who's getting older and more senile by the minute (he will often go outside and have to be reminded that he's supposed to pee), loves his play balls, especially the ones that squeak and make him think he's killing something. Another disturbing sight, especially since the cat is neutered. But these red and green ones that I got recently don't squeak, and only give him a chance to sit in one place for a while and munch at them until he's destroyed them and I have to throw them in the trash.

Yesterday was the best day yet of this ugly November, when the temperatures soared to the 40s and the sun shone all day. Magellan, good boricua cat that she is, pushed Geni off her bed, which gets a full treatment of sun in the late morning, and located herself there for hours, basking in the sun and tanning for the winter.

Meanwhile, I'm on break for the whole week (thank God that I teach at a small, liberal arts college!), and while I have a lot of work during this "free" time, it's just a great feeling to be able to set my own schedule rather than always having to be running here and there to meet a pre-set itinerary almost each and every day.

But for the past two weeks I did a lot better than I had for all the prior weeks of this semester, managing to protect one entire day of the week for my own purposes and prepping for my classes enough in advance that I was more than prepared, which always makes me feel at my best. I don't enjoy "winging it," even in classes I'm teaching again, so making sure I have plenty of prep time is important to my peace of mind.

I'm hoping that the trend of the past weeks continues for the last 2 weeks of classes when we resume work at my small college on the hill after Thanksgiving break, and I'll be looking forward to the end of a busy semester that has taught me a lot about myself, about teaching, about being a citizen of the college, about being a minority in a predominantly white institution.

I guess that, before this year, I was so focused on getting my Monster done and leaving graduate school behind, that this semester has felt like a true education in what it means to be a tenure-track professor. It's still the best job I could ever have the privilege to hold, and I'm blessed to be at a place where I have good friends and colleagues, and great students, and one that's not too far away from the friends I have back and the things I like to do in the big city.

I'm already bemoaning that it's Monday, not because it's so brown and gray outside, but also because it means my week off will soon start careening toward its too-soon end. But I'm going to make it my purpose to enjoy every moment of this free time, including keeping an eye (especially the camera's) on those who provide the best November color in this house: the wild, wild creatures we call our pets.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The first snow

Flurries falling, quiet and fast.

Dreaded, gray winter arrives.

Fall, its shades of orange, was short.

Winter draws first snow in white.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Face off

In our house, there's always some kind of face off going on. But these domestic clashes are not between me and my husband, thankfully. We manage to have a pretty serene house life, even though we're both stubborn, and tend toward a fieriness of character, to say the least.

No, in our house it's not the two-legged homo sapiens who cause the domestic strife, it's the non-sapiens ones on four legs -- or paws, to be more precise.

If it's not Magellan and Darwin having one of their dramatic, if perennial, battles-to-the-death against each other (Darwin's nose has many a mark of those scuffles), it's Rusty and Darwin having one of theirs. I think I've mentioned how, when we rescued Darwin as a six-month-old kitten, the rescuer told us that he was "nervous around dogs," and that she was concerned about his coming to live with our two mutts.

Well, she need not have worried one bit. That cat runs circles around the dogs, especially Geni, whom he thinks is his own personal toy. He likes to rub his head against her face, her ears, her neck, and she'll let him, looking martyred and put upon the entire time.

He's learned to be more wary of Rusty, because the old dog has, to his own regret because he gets severely chastised, pinned Darwin down a couple of times with his powerful, albeit elderly, cat-spine-breaking jaws. I still have some of the early anxiety that began when we first brought Darwin home that I'll arrive and find parts of cat strewn all over the cat-blood-stained apartment walls. Needless to say, I'm very grateful that such a Poe-esque nightmare has remained such.

Geni and Rusty get along famously, and Magellan (the smartest four-legged creature in this household) stays clear of both, only occasionally getting close enough, when the dogs are lying down for their increasingly longer naps, to sniff a paw or a tail and then scurry away, before the dogs notice.

But now we have yet another face off that has already had its first casualty. Now Darwin is at war with the squirrels. For the entire time we've been here, the squirrels have stayed away from the bird feeders and window sills. However, now that winter is fast approaching, and food must be scarcer or harder to get out there in the woods, they've discovered both.

There's always one pesky squirrel in the bunch, and that one is now the one who'll sit at the window sill, munching nervously away but not nervous enough to run away after she's determined that Darwin can't get at her through the glass.

She's also the one that likes to perch herself inside another window feeder, causing Darwin to lunge at her from the kitchen sink. This latest preference of the squirrel (and of Darwin) cost us our lovely Galileo thermometer (a long-ago present from my sister in law, which had survived several moves and Darwin's introduction to the house). My husband had moved the lovely glass thermometer away from the larger windowsill to the one above the sink, thinking it would be more protected there. Sadly, he recently arrived home to find it shattered into a gazillion pieces over the sink. Score zero for the homo sapiens, one for the squirrel and one for Darwin.

I've now cleared the larger windowsill and placed a stool there so Darwin can sit and glare at the pesky squirrel to his heart's content. He does chase her off, now and then, but she always comes back, something I think he appreciates. At least it keeps him, who tends to be very easily and quickly bored, entertained. And it makes for a good picture and post, too.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The quilt is done!

I tell my students that ambition must be accompanied by discipline, and I like it when I live up to my own axioms.

Although my husband was understandably skeptical about my being able to finish a quilt, given the crazy busy pace that this semester has had since its beginning, I can say with not a little pride that I did it! I had my own doubts, too, since I've been known to pick up projects or endeavors and then abandon them after they prove too complicated, or time consuming, or annoying.

But, this time, as with my Monster, I plodded through, and while (like my Monster) the quilt is far from perfect, it's quite functional and now graces a tabletop in my office. And I was the only student in the class (there were 4 of us) who finished her quilt on time. I did have two great teachers, who patiently showed me how to do things and helped me fix my many mistakes, but the quilt was all cut, and pieced and machine sewn (and even stitched) by me.

One interesting thing about quilting is that once you've finished sandwiching the top (see above), the batting, and the backing (see my dancing kitties below), then that's when los huevos se ponen a peseta. That's when the really hard part starts.

Quilting the quilt itself is the second hardest part, and many quilters take their sandwiched quilt (done in this case with an adhesive spray) to a professional quilter for that step. I found the binding (the green edging around the whole quilt) to be the greatest challenge, and if you look closely, you'll see that some of my edges are less than straight, or downright crooked.

But who's looking? I wasn't seeking perfection, I was just seeking accomplishment in the sense of finishing the quilt. And I did, so I'm happy as can be.

Next semester, the same teachers are going to teach a class on how to quilt with flannel, and my plan is to sign up for that, too, unless next semester, when I'll be teaching 3 classes (including my first senior seminar), ends up being crazier busier than this one.

My generous mother-in-law has loaned me her old, portable Singer so over the Christmas break I'm hoping to quilt a small baby boy quilt for my bestest of friends, KG, and that's something I'm looking forward to.

I've always said that the only thing I knew to do well with my hands was type since I couldn't draw, or paint, or sculpt. But then I added pie and bread making to typing, and now I've added quilting, and perhaps someday I'll take a photography class so nunca es tarde cuando la dicha es buena. It feels good to know that while I may be getting older I still have so many cool things to learn.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Late fall in the country

On a recent, lovely late-fall afternoon of this Indian Summer that blessed us with 70-plus-degree weather for most of my mami's visit from Puerto Rico, my husband dragged me almost kicking as screaming (as usual) away from my all-consuming work, and the three of us went off into the woods. (Mami's shadow playfully waved at the camera.)

My mami comes yearly to visit on my birthday and for Halloween, and this time she stayed through the election (and what an election that was, right?). She loves walking in the woods, so my husband thought of a trail near our small college on the hill, thinking it would please her, and it did not disappoint.

The beauty of the woods in late fall is of a special kind, and includes rather portentous views, like the two trees crossed like an "X" above the trail, likely the results of the recent hurricane-force windstorm.

There isn't much color in late fall, but these lipstick-red berries on a dessicated plant made for a good contrast as the sun started it's slow drop from the sky.

A pretty-in-pink tree regaled us with is canopy, which stretched almost across the trail, as the waning sun played hide and seek with us in the little stream, blanketed with dead leaves.

Another burst of color emerged among fields covered by a fuzzy-headed brown weed.

And as the sun hit the still-green fields below the little hill we hiked, the view made my mami and I exclaim.

Still, since there was dinner to cook, classes to plan, and work to be done, we turned back after our short intrusion into the quiet and lonely woods, and we left its late-fall mysteries behind, until another day.