Thursday, February 28, 2008


One of the things I love most about the little apartment in the woods near my small college on the hill is the wonderful walkability that it provides. Living here, I can walk anywhere I need to, especially on those bad weather days when getting the car out means you're tempting fate.

Last summer, when Dr. S and I taught in the program designed for underrepresented students (the one I will be teaching again this June after my defense), she would walk absolutely everywhere. I found that curious because, good Puerto Rican that I am, I've been used to driving everywhere. Even in our little city I do a lot of driving, compared to when I'm here and the car just sits in the parking lot for several days at a time. That's how I know that I've become acculturated to this small-town environment because I've become much more of a walker. I mean, I've always walked for exercise but now I walk just to walk. In environmental and physical health terms, being here is a plus in many ways.

This morning, the dogs and I were able to take a longish, 2-mile walk after the plows had cleared the roads of the about 4 inches of snow that have accumulated over two days of winter weather. The dogs definitely seem to enjoy our walks here more than in our little city because there's much more to smell. Rusty even seems rejuvenated as if he knew the myriad possibilities of what we might come across in our walks. Indeed, I've decided to avoid a particular stretch of one of our walk versions because the area reeks rather strongly of skunk and I'm not interested in having a close encounter with one of those.

The dogs, especially Rusty, also like the compactness of my little apartment in the woods. My husband theorizes that it's because it feels much more like a den than our big three-story house in the little city. Here, the dog always knows where I am and can easily verify it, as he likes to do, by coming over and poking his head in the bathroom whenever I'm in there getting ready for class. He'll come, edge the door ajar with his nose, look in, and once he verifies my whereabouts, he turns around and walks back to his favorite bed in the living room between the two large, comfy chairs and in front of the tall bookshelves.

Geni is a blissful soul who adapts to any circumstance (for years she lived in the dark, damp attached garage of our first house in Ohio because she absolutely refused to come inside and would get very nervous and agitated if we forced her to do so), but even she also seems happier here because she's not relegated to a mud room, as she feels she must in our big house. Instead, she comes into the living room to enjoy the plush carpet and to nudge me with her nose so I pet her while I work at the computer, something she can't do back home since I'm always ensconced in the basement.

Today, the wind isn't making the already cold temperatures feel frigid, and the roads are very well cleared, and it's not snowing or sleeting or raining so today is going to be another day of walking to and from the small college on the hill. I'll take my fabulous Shuffle with me for company and salsa my way into town. The music will do its magic but I know I also will be exhilarated by the beauty of the Winter Wonderland into which everything has been turned, because of the layers of white, white snow that has turned everything, even the sad, denuded trees, into frosted cupcakes.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Springing to spring

My husband says I complain too much about winter, and he's absolutely right. His solution: Let's move back to Puerto Rico. But given that I now have an actual job (and one that I absolutely love) at my small college on the hill, that's not a practicable solution for now.

Perhaps someday I'll be famous enough that I can do half the year in the States and half the year in Puerto Rico, as some renowned professors here do (they don't live the other half of the year in Puerto Rico, of course, but somewhere else). How nice it would be to spend the worst part of the winter (basically all of January and February) admiring the crystalline green waters of the Caribbean Sea, and feeling the warm breezes of my island. Sigh...

For now, alas, that's just wishful thinking. And it's not just the jobs that keep us here. Although both my husband and I would love to go to Puerto Rico right now, and I have two weeks of Spring Break coming up, there's no one to take care of Rusty (who, as most of you know, failed doggy day care at the vet's). It's not that we can't kennel him, but that every time we've done so he's been so depressed and traumatized that we swore we wouldn't do it again.

My mother-in-law used to stay in our house to care for him and the other furry grandchildren, but her health no longer permits her to do so. Thus, the only way for us to travel is to go in the heat of summer when we can drop off the dogs at my in-laws' place in West Virginia, which the dogs see as their personal Doggy Summer Camp.

Thus, for now, I can't escape winter and must put up with it, even if I do so rather ungraciously, especially since the winters in Ohio seem to be endless. Sometimes it feels like winter here is basically a year-long season, except for a few exceptionally hot days in the summers.

While I had hoped for a milder February and had believed in Buckeye Chuck's prediction that spring would come early, the Ohio groundhog was dead wrong and his Pennsylvania cousin nailed it when he said we wouldn't see spring until March was well into its days. Buckeye Chuck, for one, didn't predict the storm we had last week, which forced me to come up early to the little apartment in the woods, and another one this week, which shooed me out of my comfortable house in the small city just last evening.

Given dire predictions of up to 8 inches of snow today, I fixed an early dinner for us and after listening to the weather forecast I rushed to pack my sundry totes and the dogs into the car and drove up. That was after my husband and I agreed that it was better to drive in the dark in good weather than to drive on bad roads during daylight. I was actually surprised that the traffic coming up here at 6:30 last night was relatively heavy, so that I was never the only car on the road (as I was once last year when I drove up, unwittingly, in a snow storm).

While it snowed a bit last night, the storm hasn't hit here yet but the roads are slushy and slippery and basically awash in dirty, thawing snow. When the dogs and I got back from our abbreviated walk (only 1.5 miles today), I had to dry them off and clean all the dirty slush from their undersides. I bet some people marvel that I walk these dogs in almost any kind of weather.

Now we're back inside, warm and cozy in the little apartment in the woods, which needless to say stays much warmer than our large house in the small city. The dogs are already snoozing away in their appointed places and I'm getting ready to do school work and then get back to my dissertation before heading out once more to meetings with colleagues and students.

There's only 3 days left to February, which has basically been an extended mirror of January, and although I continually chastise myself for "wishing my life away," I can't wait for this month to end and am not appreciating this extra day of this leap year.

Still, I remind myself continually that spring is unstoppable, even if it takes so darn long to make it here in Ohio. They say spring, like hope, springs eternal. I just wish it sprung (or sprinted, actually) a little faster here.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Back to normal

Well, only a few days after Rusty joined the Prozac nation, I quickly had to exile him from it.

During his first day on Prozac, Rusty was absent from his life. That's the best way I can describe the doped out mode in which he operated (or not, since he spent the day conked out, sleeping). That was his first foray into Prozac, which is touted as a miracle cure for anxious and depressed dogs.

The few times he awoke, no amount of cajoling him would convince him to come outside to pee (something very odd since outside is his very favorite place to be, and peeing his most favored endeavor). He even started looking at me as if wondering who I was!

I called his veterinarian and she reduced the dose and while he was back in the land of the awake, he started acting quite oddly. Along with refusing to go outside, he lost all his normally ravenous appetite. That became painfully obvious not only when he refused his breakfast every morning but also when he showed absolutely no interest in any of his varied vegetarian treats, the ones he normally would eat by the pound daily, if we let him.

Second, he started shaking, as if terrified, anytime we approached him, and flinching whenever we touched him. Third, he stopped doing his pupu during normal times, especially during our morning and evening walks. And fourth, he looked dazed and unsure and even more anxious than before we tried the medication.

Thus, I took him off the pills yesterday and today he's back to his usual, anxious-but-awake, ornery-but-present-in-his-life, mistrustful-but-not-terrified dog. He's eating normally, craving his treats, and eager to go outside at any and every opportunity.

I know people sometimes don't react well to certain medications for anxiety and/or depression and that they have to try and try again until they find something that works. But with Rusty, this was it. We tried, it failed, and now, for the remainder of his time on this Earth, he gets to be what he is: an anxious dog.

Now, it's back to normal, which isn't normal, but it's way better than the alternative, it turns out.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Of skorts, skirts and pants

Not a day has gone by in my 200-level Latin American and U.S. Latin@ literature class titled Beyond Borders that we haven't mentioned Britney Spears.

One of my students even argued that she is a "transborder" personality, meaning (I guess) that she is now beyond any restraint or limit. But I disagreed, especially because Ms. Spears doesn't in any way, shape or form, that I can think of, fit the transborder framework, at least not within the context of my class.

And while I'm not particularly interested in Ms. Spear's public train-wreck of a life, a part of me is glad that the students feel they can make connections between the theoretical constructs we discuss in class and issues of public interest to them today.

That's one of the main points of the whole exercise of my teaching. I want my students to see literature and literary theory (well, some of it) as applicable to their lives, not as something esoteric or alien or over their heads. I want the students to learn about life through the literature. After all, that's one of the greatest gifts a book can give us.

I'll likely never visit Chile, and I definitely wasn't there before or after the 1973 military coup that changed that country's history forever, but I "live" through that time everytime I re-read and re-teach Isabel Allende's The House of Spirits.

The funniest and most recent example of how the students make connections between the literature and the theory and their lives, was when one student suggested that Allende's novel vacillated between giving women "pants" (metaphorically speaking, he stressed) and keeping them "in skirts."

"It's like skort literature," he ventured.

"Skort?" the rest of the class snorted, "What's that?"

He proceeded to explain, quite informedly, that the skort was half a pant and half a skirt.

"We could see it as a transitional phase," I ventured.

"But what's wrong with pants, why can't women just wear pants?!" one of my more feminist students demanded.

And so it went, as the whole class got into a discussion of gender roles through the metaphors of pants, skirts and skorts, and of how the novel, while written by a clearly feminist writer, reflects an ambivalence about gender roles.

This ambivalence is clear in the fact that while the women play very significant roles in the novel, which tells the story of a family in Chile before and after the coup, it is the men who wield most of the power.

I wondered what a visitor would have thought of my class. Would they perceive that as a pedagogically rich moment in which the students were trying to make sense of the literature in their own terms? Or would they see it as too simplistic an analytical move?

Personally, I had a ball, as I do each and every day I teach. When people ask me: "How did your class go?" I always have to answer: "Great!" Because it's always great for me.

I remember one student a few years back who said she loved coming to my class because there was always a laughing moment and she always left smiling. That's exactly why I love my class, too. I always leave with a smile on my face, and invariably, we all end up laughing about something, somehow. It's great therapy, let me tell you.

I have class in a few minutes and God knows what the metaphor-of-the-day will be as we move from Allende's novel to Pablo Neruda's poetry. I hope I do justice to The Poet, who marked the beginning of the end of my own career as a poet. As I tell my students, I used to write poetry once upon a time, but then I read Neruda and never wrote again because all the great poetry has already been written.

While I may have given up on poetry, I haven't given up on writing. And I hope that I have many, many more years of teaching left in me. When it comes to writing, that's one of the greatest things about this blog. I don't have to compete with Neruda to enjoy it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


I guess the beauty and the frustration of writing is that you can never achieve perfection. But the important thing is to try, and try again.

It's like I tell my students, while we aren't given the power to achieve perfection, we are given the ability to yearn for it. I've realized, as I now have reached the last lap of the dissertation, that I've become much better at aplicarme ese cuento so that I'm not predicando la moral in calzoncillos. As my Monster becomes more and more embodied and recognizable as a creature that makes sense together, I get more comfortable in my scholarly skin and self-doubt becomes a distant murmullo that I don't waste much time paying attention to.

That doesn't mean that I have lost all perspective (or humility) and come to believe that my project is perfect. That would not just be unrealistic but also stupid of me. It means that I come to recognize and appreciate my shortcomings along with my strengths. As I also tell my students, usually what makes us strong is also what becomes a liability, under a different guise.

Yesterday, part of my dissertation was discussed by colleagues at a faculty seminar, and it was an exciting experience. It was the first time that any section of my dissertation had been read and commented on by so many different scholars, most from outside my own discipline. Unlike a conference presentation, where people listen and then ask questions, in this case my colleagues read and commented on the essay and came prepared to discuss the piece for a little over an hour.

While I dreaded the usual criticisms about my writing: that I have an annoying tendency to repeat myself and that I need to condense parts of my sometimes wordy prose, I instead received great questions and comments that moved my thinking further and that I know will strengthen the piece to the point when I can submit it to a top journal and see if it gets published.

One of the best moments came when two of the professors in my department, two of my colleagues I admire most, praised the piece for being well written and interesting. That meant a lot to me and gave me further impulse to continue honing the project until it's as intellectually muscular as it can be.

"You're ready for your defense," one of them said as we walked away from the seminar room, and once I thought about what she meant, I realized that she was right. Not only had I been able to answer all questions about my piece but I also had shown that I commanded the scholarship and my own contribution to the field.

That's a great feeling, and it gave me further confidence that I should be quite able to handle the defense come June. For one, there will only be four professors (three from my committee) to answer to, instead of the seven from five different departments that were at the seminar yesterday.

With the defense in mind, those revisions to earlier sections are shelved for now as I continue to develop the last chapter. It's very different from its other three siblings, and definitely less theoretically creative, but I'm very excited about it. Most of all, I'm excited because it's the last one and it again signals that I've turned the corner of a writing project that I began in earnest two years ago.

All good (and bad) things come to an end. I'm doing my best to close this process off with a broche de oro. Let's drink (a cup of decaf, of course) to that!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Rusty joins the Prozac nation

I drove up to the pharmacy's Drive-Thru window, and handed the prescription for generic Prozac to the pharmacist, a rather short, gray-haired man with uneven teeth, who seemed to recognize me and smiled.

"It's for him," I said, smiling back and signaling with my head toward Rusty, who was sitting in the back, blithely looking out the window with partial interest at the exchange between me and the unknown man.

Today, the vet prescribed Prozac for my dog after I asked whether she thought it would be helpful. He's been on a mild anti-anxiety medication for a few years, but as he gets older he gets more, not less, anxious. So I'm trying the big guns now.

Rusty's story is a sad one up until the time my husband and I brought him home, one year after we were married. He must have been the cutest of puppies, and when his puppy-like qualities come alive (less often now because he's almost 14), he gives us a glimpse of the care-free, smiling, bounding dog he would've been, if he hadn't been tortured as a puppy.

Rusty came into our lives because of a mistake. After cajoling my husband into agreeing to adopt a dog, I spread the word that I was looking to rescue a Labrador Retriever. When my gringo boss, back in 1995, said his neighbor had a Lab and wanted to get rid of it because it would eat his hens, I jumped at the opportunity to rescue an unwanted dog. My boss said the dog had spent most of his first year tied up because of his taste for chicken, and that he was in really bad shape.

When my husband and I went to pick the dog up, sight unseen, we traveled about 45 minutes into the hills of Caguas, Puerto Rico. When we arrived at my boss' home in the country, he (who had already taken the one-year-old dog from his cruel neighbor) handed him over and told us that his name was Rusty. I took one look at the dog and felt like I had made a terrible, terrible mistake.

First, there was nothing of the Labrador about the dog, so I don't know what my boss was thinking (he probably just used that as a ploy to convince me to take the dog!). The scrawny, mange-covered dog was rather smallish (at his heaviest he now weighs 52 pounds), with wolf-yellow eyes, and fur that has more in common with the color of a Golden Retriever than a yellow Lab. I was so let down that I wept as we drove off with the smiling dog in the car to God-knew-what kind of future.

But I knew there was no going back. Disappointed as I was that Rusty was not the kind of dog I wanted, I would've never dumped him at a shelter, knowing that he would get put down pretty quickly. In fact, we are convinced that if we hadn't adopted him, Rusty would likely not have survived long.

It's been 13 years since that moment, and I still feel ashamed when I remember how disappointed and upset I was that he wasn't a Lab. What a comemierda I was! After all, once he recovered from his sarcoptic mange and put on weight, he became a very handsome sato, with intelligent and soulful eyes that sometimes seem to beg me to translate some situation into dog-speak so he can understand.

From the first day we brought him home, he bonded with us. That day he stayed with my husband, who was working from home back then. When I arrived that evening from work, he started barking at me, letting me know that there was a new defender of the house. My husband had to remind him of who I was before he would stop warning me away from my own home.

When we first took him for a walk, we noticed that Rusty didn't know how to mark territory. He only knew how to pee squatting, like a female. Slowly but surely, however, he figured it out somehow, and started marking territory with a vengeance. He eventually realized that he was meant to be an Alpha dog, which has meant a lot of re-education on our part so that he knows que no se manda y que ésto no es una república.

To this day, he only accepts into his pack those people he met during those early years with us. New acquaintances and friends, those we've met here in Ohio, he mistrusts as strangers and must be kept away from all visitors, especially tall men, because he does have a tendency to nip to assert his Alpha status.

Now that he's elderly and not as nimble, we often recall how he loved for us to take him to the park, where he would run in large, long circles, chasing an invisible rabbit, or how he loved to run in the sand of a solitary beach, though (true to his not being a Lab) he hates the water. But he'll still chase a squirrel up a tree, if given the chance. And he loves to pretend that he could chase down the deer he sees when we're at my small college on the hill.

It's true that he's a lot of work, almost (but, of course, not quite) like having a human child. It's also true that he is on expensive medication for reflux disease, for arthritis and for his anxiety, and that he requires a special diet of costly food and treats because he has allergies to the common proteins that dogs love (like his life-long favorite: chicken). But I wouldn't change Rusty for the world.

And I'm going to miss this old dog terribly when he finally goes to the Doggy Park in the Sky to chase squirrels and run with the wolves forever. He's been my faithful companion all these years and he's been a fixture of our marriage almost from its beginning.

Now, as the countdown gets shorter for how much longer he has to be with us, I want to give him the best quality, since I can't do much about the quantity, of life (that's mostly up to God). That's why my dog has joined the Prozac nation and we'll be trying out the medication to see if it helps ease that perennial, unshakable anxiety that preys on him. It's like he cannot shed the memory of having spent one year as a tortured animal even when the last 13 have been spent as a pampered, loved and cherished pet.

But, like for humans, there are memories that must be impossible for dogs to set aside. Humans, at least, have repression to help them and I know that the few traumatic memories of my childhood are buried so deep that I cannot (and wouldn't at this point) call them up, hard as I might try. That's how our minds protect us, keep us sane and functional.

Dogs don't have that capability and while they do live mostly in the moment, and that's why we've been able to get glimpses of the carefree dog Rusty might have been, whatever that man did to Rusty is burned in his consciousness never to be erased, until he dies.

If I sin of anything with that dog it is perhaps by trying so hard to make him happy, by living my life around the dog's needs, and by my inability to tell myself: "It's just a dog!" I made a pact with Rusty the day I rescued him, even if he wasn't the dog I thought I wanted back then.

That pact is for the rest of his life and that pledge means that, as long as I have the means and the ability, he will not want for love and for care and for security. Here's to hoping that his initiation into the Prozac nation makes a difference for both of us.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Shuffle love

I must admit that I'm not much of a gadget girl. I've never been the one who has to have all the latest technological advances, and while my sister owns a fancy Blackberry, and my youngest niece sported an Ipod Nano the size of my thumb the last time I visited, I am still in the almost-Middle Aged era of portable radios and paper-and-pen appointment books.

But that has changed (if only a little). I confess myself to be head over heels in love with the Ipod Shuffle. It is the most gloriously fabulous gadget ever invented, third only in my love of inanimate objects to my salsa-red Scion and my Vista-powered desktop with a 15-inch flat screen (a present from my mami).

This tiniest of contraptions is made with people like me in mind: it fits 250 songs (which you load up through the computer), and it can be easily clipped to any part of your clothing. Yesterday, I burned at least two hours of my day just transferring about 50 songs into the Shuffle and I still have about 70% of the thing open for more songs.

My husband is the reason why the Shuffle made it into my life. Several years ago, he got the original Ipod (like, first generation in their lingo) as a business gift. Generous as he is, he said we could share the Ipod (even after I accidentally dropped it on the street) and filled it (it holds 2,000 songs or something preposterous like that) with my songs, too.

More recently, I had kidnapped the Ipod during my weekly trips to the small college on the hill so it could keep me company when I do my long walks on Saturdays as part of my training to walk the half-marathon in April. That meant that my poor husband couldn't (as he liked to do before I commandeered his Ipod) listen to his music before going to sleep or take it with him on business trips.

But the original Ipod is big and unwieldy and I'm always terrified that I'm going to drop it again and finally break it. So when I searched on Amazon to see how much it would cost me to get a used one for myself, we came across the Shuffle and I was smitten. My husband called a friend, whose wife owns one, to get her opinion, and he concluded that it sounded like a good idea. With a click of the mouse, the Shuffle was mine (in purple, like the color of my small college on the hill), and two days later it arrived.

Today, I test drove the Shuffle by taking it on a long walk (almost 5 miles) and I had a ball. Not only does it clip easily to anything but it doesn't weigh a thing and the sound is pristine. After 1.5 hours of walking, I hadn't even begun to exhaust one quarter of the songs I recorded and there are 10 CDs on my desk awaiting another block of empty hours (well, hours stolen from everything else I have to get done) so I can add more songs into my cute little Shuffle.

Music has always been an important part of my life. There are songs that identify moments I've lived through, good and bad, and songs that I never tire of listening, like Preciosa by Marc Anthony, or Boricua en la Luna by Fiel a la Vega and Roy Brown, or Creceremos by Lucecita Benítez, or Patria by Rubén Blades.

As I walked the mostly empty streets of my little city this afternoon, I realized that while most of my world is in English, all the songs I recorded into the Shuffle (well, 99.9%) are in Spanish. In many ways, English is the language of my rational self, but Spanish is the language of my soul (although English is really good to curse in now and then).

And since there's a frustrated rock star inside of me, the Shuffle allowed me to sing my heart out (well, not too loudly of course) as I power-walked for miles, drawing inspiration and energy from the tunes and lyrics of my favorite singers. English is a lovely language but Spanish is a powerful one. I'm quite the lucky one to be able to dance to both their rhythms.

Now all those songs are captured in my Shuffle and I have access to the music I love almost anytime, anywhere, anyhow. Oh, and did I tell you that I can even use it in my Scion, too? No doubt about it, this love of music is easily translated into Shuffle love, of the eternal kind.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Slice of(f) Life

After my husband and I had a quiet Valentine's Day dinner at the nice restaurant of the tiny town of my small college on the hill, I awoke early this morning and went off to my Friday yoga class. When I returned to the apartment, my husband was up, duly caffeinated and ready to join me in taking the dogs for their walk.

As we started off, my husband suggested that we should take the road less traveled to see where a particular street, which abuts an old cemetery, ended. When it was all said and done, we and the dogs had walked three full miles mostly through lonely country roads of frozen cornfields and snowed-over fields where the only company we met was the birds and the occasional truck speeding by us.

"People don't have much reason to obey speed limits on country roads," my husband observed after I complained that we'd almost been run over by a huge pickup truck. "There's not usually pedestrians on these roads."

True, of course, since there's not a sidewalk to be seen for miles, which makes sense, of course, when you're out in the flat-land boonies of Ohio (I guess).

Once home, the dogs were spent and so were we, and I was hungry so I decided to toast myself some bread from a small loaf of good Italian pan I had bought recently. There was not much left of the loaf and while I successfully cut off one slice, the razor-sharp bread knife came too close to my finger in attempting to cut the second slice and almost lopped off the very top of my left thumb.

I yelled, more because I knew that this was Trouble than because it hurt, and my husband rushed into the kitchen to ascertain the damage. We both agreed that the cut was deep enough that I probably would need stitches. But where? One thing of being in the boonies is that you don't usually have access to the same facilities or quality of care that one gets here in our little city. So I called the department's administrative assistant, who is a great resource and friend, and she suggested that I call the college health center. I did and they said I should come right over, so we did.

Now, on the several occasions when my often-accidented life has required a visit to the emergency room, the wait has been interminable. At the very least, I've spent three to four hours waiting; at the most, more than eight. I was already bracing myself for that kind of day, thinking of when I should decide to cancel class, sure that the health center would refer me to the nearest hospital for stitching. But I was wrong.

One of the many advantages of my small college on the hill, I discovered, is precisely that it has a health center on the premises with a good-humored, experienced doctor who not only saw me 10 minutes after I arrived but was able to put my poor thumbty-dumpty together again.

When I complained that I felt like a fool for having this stupidest of accidents, the doctor said: "Be thankful you're not like the Amish guy I saw recently, who had cut off his thumb with a saw and it was still inside the glove when he came to see me."

Well, when you put it that way... The doctor then told us another story, of another Amish guy who cut several gashes into his fingers with a saw, but worked until the end of the day with the hand wrapped in a towel and then came to see him.

That story, of course, reminded both my husband and I of the time he had the same accident I had just had. Way back when we lived in Puerto Rico, my husband was slicing apples so he could prepare one of his West Virginia dessert cakes for my grandmother, who has always had quite the sweet tooth.

After slicing into his thumb, my stoic husband refused to be taken to the emergency room and assured me that his finger would heal soon. Well, three days later, his thumb was still bleeding. When we visited my grandmother, still formidable at a much younger age than her very frail 98-year-old self today, she commandeered us into taking him to the hospital and actually came with us to make sure she was obeyed.

After spending hours in the emergency room, once the surgeon finally saw my husband, his first question was: "Why did you wait so long to come to the emergency room?" Turns out he had nicked a vein. While I remember that the surgeon suggested he would have likely bled to death over a few weeks, if the finger had not been finally stitched up, my husband disputes this memory. To this day, my husband does remember that episode with a bit of chagrin, since it was one of those extremely rare occasions in which his better judgment was a little off.

My philosophy is that all is well that ends well. His finger healed completely and so will mine. And now we have one more slice of life to tell. Still, from now on, I'm staying away from seemingly innocent bread knives that are actually sharp enough to cut through a slab of beef.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The things I do for dogs

Twice in about a week I've realized that the dogs and I are the only living creatures out on the streets of our little city, and I have found that quite revealing. While I'm starting to get the message, I'm not too sure I like what it says.

This past weekend, after I returned from another full week at my small college on the hill, the dogs and I went out for our morning walk although the winds outside were gusting at 50 mph. I had to dress up like the people you see in those documentaries about the polar station located in a glacier in the Antarctic. Not only was I wearing several thermal layers and my trusty minus-20-degrees long parka, the one a friend described as my "personal floating device," but every inch of my body, except my eyes, was covered.

Of course, for those of us who wear glasses, that means that my vision was constantly getting fogged up, which is inordinately annoying when you're trying to avoid running into a flying trash can, or struggling against being whisked away by a wind gust, like Dorothy out of Kansas, dogs and all.

As I gave the dogs the abridged version of our morning walk, I noticed that there was not another human (or animal) soul on the streets. Mad dogs and Englishmen, the 1930s song said about who would step out into the tropical noontime sun. Well, here in Ohio I guess it's Viejo dogs and Puerto Ricans, when it comes to who goes out in near-hurricane-strength winds buffeting our little city.

Today, I had pretty much the same eerie feeling that I was walking the dogs through a ghost town as we found ourselves, once more, the only ones on the streets, braving the five inches of snow on the ground, and the blizzard-like conditions. Once more, I was decked out to the nines in winter gear, like I was ready to scale Everest sans the Sherpa to guide me.

(BTW, does it bother anyone else that it was a white New Zealander, the recently deceased Edmund Hillary, who got most of the fame for scaling Everest first in 1953, although he acknowledged -- at least in an NPR interview I heard recently -- that it was Tenzing Norgay, his Sherpa from India, who actually got there first?)

This isn't Everest, by any means (¡gracias a Dios!) but a snow storm, the worst one yet this winter in Ohio, struck last night and it hasn't stopped snowing yet. When all is said and done, we might be buried under more than eight inches of snow, and that's down here, in the city. I don't even want to think what the streets and fields around the little apartment in my small college on the hill look like today. I'm glad I was here in the warmer south, so to speak, and that my car is safe and dry in our garage, rather than literally buried in snow at the apartment parking lot.

As we trudged through the unplowed and fast accumulating snow, Rusty was positively puppy-like as he bounded and appeared to want to frolic in the snow. Geni, good Puerto Rican sata that she is, kept looking up at me, wanting to gauge how much longer she had to endure this suplicio. Needless to say, this was another abridged walk.

By the time we were back at our door, Geni looked like she was an iced dog-shaped cookie. From the tip of her nose to the end of her freakish-looking tail (multicolored and misshaped as it is), she was covered in white, powdery snow. Rusty, clearly a smarter breed of sato, had shaken off the snow several times and was hardly incommoded.

It's still snowing out there and it's supposedly going to turn into a wintry mix, with snow showers and icy rain later today. That's why I've decided to stay right here in my warm and cozy home, rather than brave the elements. That element-braving thing, that's one of those things I do only for the dogs.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

More milestones

Yesterday, a friend and I worked on our dissertations together at a nice coffee shop near the huge university where we will get our Ph.D.s from. After a good hour or so of work and some catching up with each other, we went to the university bookstore and got measured for our doctoral robes.

A part of me wanted to pinch myself to make sure it was for real, that I was really getting measured and will be soon ordering a full set of graduation regalia, like the illustration above. The price is exorbitant and absurd, and my humongous land-grant state university charges more for its regalia than Harvard, which was founded in the 17th century! Unbelievable.

When it's all said and done, the cost of registering for 3 credit hours in spring quarter so I can defend my dissertation for 2 hours one day in June, and the robe, hood and tam for graduation in August, will equal a king's ransom. But at my small college on the hill (and at the college where my friend is going to teach) they have about four or five academic processions a year. The cost of renting regalia for a few of those would eventually equal or exceed the price of buying the get up, so buy it I will.

Right now, I just registered for those 3 credit hours that cost, per credit, about as much as an ounce of gold, or of a single blue diamond (at least that's what it feels like!). I received confirmation that I was registered, so it's now do or die. Of course, I could get my tuition paid for if I worked the entire summer, but I'd like to have at least July and August off after completing my Ph.D. (and have a summer off for the first time since 2001), so we will dig deep into our pockets and make the university a little richer.

Personally, my biggest fear is that something outside of my control will go wrong and I won't be able to meet my absolute deadline of June 13. I'm scheduled to defend June 10 so I have just enough wiggle room (a few days), if some minor change is needed at the last minute. If I miss that June 13th deadline, though, I will have to dish out my weight in gold again and register for the summer and push everything back to who knows when. But while I'll develop a Plan B (it's always good to have a Plan B and Plan C, if you can), I won't think about it much because I don't like to think about that possibility.

Getting measured for the regalia and registering for the upcoming quarter are two milestones that signal clearly I'm on the straight road toward completion. My advisor is making noises about liking the last revised chapter and now it's all up to this last chapter I have begun working on. I'm in the hardest part of the process, though, which is the reading and researching part. It's the part I like least since I much prefer sitting in front of this computer for hours to type out my ideas. But it's the most important part of the process so I will soldier on, as I always do.

If all goes as planned, I will defend on June 10, no changes will be needed and the dissertation will be wrapped in a bow and turned in to the Graduate School on June 13. I will graduate and be hooded in August, and this six-year-long chapter of my life, including the master's and the Ph.D., will finally come to a much-anticipated close. Que Dios así lo quiera.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Groundhog tales

Today is Groundhog Day, and the most famous groundhog of all, Punxsutawney Phil, saw his shadow early this morning in Pennsylvania, predicting six more weeks of winter.

Poo hoo, I say to that scaredy-cat Punxsutawney Phil!

In contrast, thanks to gray and cloudy skies in Ohio, our version of Phil, Buckeye Chuck, predicted the opposite. He didn't see his shadow (how could he possibly do so?) and he's predicting that spring will come early this year.

I'm putting my money on Buckeye Chuck. Envisioning six more weeks of winter is just too much of a downer right now. Looking forward to an early spring (of course, without the killer frost we had last year in April), seems more like my cup of tea (decaf coffee, actually, and from Starbucks, I must confess).

I'll take Buckeye Chuck's prediction and run with it even though today certainly doesn't look like the harbinger of early spring by any means. I've been waiting for temperatures to rise above freezing so I can take my poor dogs on their walk. They were ready and eager to go out at 7 when I first got up to give them breakfast so you can imagine their despondency when 5 hours later we're still inside and there's no sign of movement.

But I'm taking it easy on this Saturday morning in efforts to stave off a possible cold, the one that's making the rounds all over my small college on the hill. That's one thing about living around young people: there's always some or another virus on the prowl.

That means I don't get to do my half-marathon training today, but hopefully I can do it tomorrow when I'm back in my little city.

For today, forecasters are predicting that the clouds will lift and the sun will shine and the temperatures will rise to almost 40 degrees. I'll believe it when I see and feel it. That would certainly be much more in keeping with Buckeye Chuck's hopeful outlook. We'll just have to wait and see if our Ohio groundhog is a better weatherman than his Pennsylvania cousin.