Saturday, July 26, 2008

Is this summer or what?

This morning my husband and I woke up extra early for a Saturday because he was going to a motorcycle event about 30 minutes away from my small college on the hill, and I was going to the farmer's market in the largest town nearby.

It's the second time this summer that I actually get to a farmer's market, but only the first time I go to this particular one. Five of us, three students and two faculty members, crowded into a new colleague's car and by 9 a.m. we were at the already-crowded farmer's market.

For me, being at a farmer's market is like being a kid at the fair. I'm a city girl who grew up with supermarkets where the food had been shipped from far away, most of which couldn't even be grown in Puerto Rico. Thus, I can't get enough of all the fresh produce, meats, cakes, breads, rolls, pies, cut flowers, plants, you name it!

It's like going to a plaza del mercado in Puerto Rico, which, now that I think about it, are basically permanent farmer's markets. My husband and I used to go occasionally to the one in Guaynabo when we lived there to get fresh Puerto Rico-grown produce.

Today, I stocked up on fresh blueberries, which my husband likes to have with his cereal; a gorgeous Cherokee Purple heirloom tomato, which I bought mostly because of the name and because of its deep red and hunter green color; and a bag-full of purple-black sweet bell peppers. Next week, I'll get more produce but today we were in a bit of a hurry because one of the students was due at work only an hour after we arrived. Next Saturday I plan to purposefully dilly dally, as my husband would say.

I'm discovering that living in a tiny town and working at a small college means that you're always bumping into people you know and congregating in groups to chat. That happened yesterday in the center of my tiny town, as a group of us gathered by chance and stayed gathered long enough to be greeted by the college president, who walked by with two of her aides. And it happened again today at the farmer's market, when another group of us congregated and chatted before us five had to rush out to deliver the student to her work.

"Did you all come in a van?" one of the farmers asked, pointing to the two other students who were walking ahead of us. "Those two in front of you are young enough to be students," she said.

"Are you suggesting that we don't look like students?" I asked, jesting with her, and pointing at my new colleague and myself.

"Graduate students!" she said, smiling back. Of course, I'm 20 years older than my new colleague, but who's counting?

After our excursion, my new colleague and I decided to (not very environmentally good) burn some gas and go to the only Starbucks in town for hot beverages and get-to-know-each-other conversation. After I dropped her back at her place, I came to the new little apartment in the woods to work with my bounty.

In a short span of time, I made some gorgeous-looking and tasty sofrito with all organic ingredients (including an onion and garlic and basil that another colleague gave us in a bagfull of free home-grown produce). I also checked on the Ohio-grown whole fryer chicken, which I have marinating in Ohio-produced buttermilk in my refrigerator, and I prepared the filling and the crust for a cobbler I'm about to make with the fresh peaches I bought at a nearby orchard a few days ago. This afternoon, my new colleague and the student who worked are coming over for some homemade fried chicken and peach cobbler.

I also did a load of sheets and hung them out to dry in the sun in the new clothesline my husband put up for me. Hanging up the sheets gave me a great feeling, not only because I'm doing my part environmentally speaking (especially to balance the drive to Starbucks!), but also because I recall hanging clothes on a clothesline with my mom long ago, and I have very nice childhood memories of doing that.

This afternoon, when my guests arrive, we'll be eating outside, on the swing and the chairs my husband and I set out in front of our new little apartment in the woods, and which have become sort of a spot of congregation. The swing and the chairs around it tend to promote conversations late into the evening as their very presence and use clamors loudly that this is undoubtedly summertime.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The best of country living

While impertinent Daddy Longlegs and ugly centipedes and squadrons of mosquitos and gnats are some of the disadvantages of country living, residing near the woods does have its perks.

The constant singing, chirping, calling, cawing, and twitting of the birds is one decided asset here, especially in our very quiet neighborhood, which I hope doesn't get ruined as new people start moving into their apartments in the next few weeks. Being surrounded by hundreds of trees is also a bonus, as is even the close-by and whimsical mooing and braying of a herd of cattle whose location we have not yet determined.

To take advantage of this type of country living, as close to country as I'll ever get, my husband took an extension cord into the courtyard of our apartment complex, and has set himself up in one of our exterior chairs to work on his laptop. The chair, an Adirondack in good shape that some previous tenant abandoned years ago and which I rescued and cleaned, is ideal because he can set up his computer mouse on one arm and his coffee and phone on the other. Very, very cute.

That sure beats working all day in the dark basement of our large house, or even in the his new "office," a room with a picture window, here in the apartment. I also really like getting comfortable on the sofa and typing away at the laptop while enjoying the view out of the large picture window in the living room.

Today I had all these plans: finally getting back to doing yoga in the morning and then running errands and then being efficient and getting more things organized and sorted and stored. But instead I decided to take a nap and then it was lunch time and now I'm writing here and I might go and get some Ohio-grown peaches at the nearby orchard, just to say I did something actually productive, but that may be the extent of my efforts for the day.

Or I might just pick one of my summer reads and head out there with my husband. I've had my eye on our old swing seat (which we also set out in the courtyard) now for days, hoping I'll get the chance to read there. This might just be the day. Oh, how I do so love summer.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Settling in

Yesterday, I met my husband at the large house in the tiny city and he packed up my little car up to the rafters with more "stuff" to bring back to the new little apartment in the woods at my small college on the hill.

As I stepped into the house that was our home for more than four years, I felt a wave of sadness course through me as I realized that soon I'd be leaving it permanently behind, although it doesn't yet have a new owner who'll cherish and love its contours, like we did.

Not only is the house antique-ly beautiful, with lovely exposed wood framing the windows and glass handles on the doors, but it's also a place full of good memories for us. The garden, which my father dubbed "El jardín mágico," brims with all the perennials we've planted throughout these years. The forsythia, peonies, black-eyed susans, lilies, bleeding hearts, hostas, rose bushes, and a lovely amapola that flowers flamboyantly each year. I'll not only miss her display but I also feel quite guilty about leaving all my birds unattended (we'd counted more than 20 species at that feeder, including Mr. Robin), even the 6 or 7 pesky squirrels that called our deck their home.

The funny thing is that the house didn't have a very good history when we bought it in 2004. By that time, four couples had lived there before us. The original couple, who bought the house when it was built in 1930, lived there until their deaths. One night, many months ago, I awoke to see an old woman sitting on our bed. She had long, gray hair and she just sat there in a white shift, looking at us with a benevolent expression. The next morning, I told my husband about my latest ghost sighting, and he (unbeknown to me) did some research on the house. He found out that the wife of the original owner had died while they lived there. Of course, there's no way of knowing whether that woman was the original owner, but I like to think that she was and that she had come to "check us out," so to speak. She must have approved, since she never came back.

But after that couple, there were three more and all of them ended up divorced. The last couple that we bought the house from had lived there a scarce 6 months after getting married before the wife decided to dump the husband and take up with a lawyer. When they got married she was a law student and he worked in insurance or some such thing, and I guess she decided that he wasn't good enough for her after she decided to study law. One of my cousins in Puerto Rico had a friend who decided, within 3 months of getting married, that she'd made the greatest mistake of her life, but I'd never actually met people who were married for less time than they were engaged.

I got to meet this woman because they both had left an inordinate amount of things in the house by the time we took possession (you wouldn't believe the absolute filth all over that house!), and she (very como si nada) came to pick her things up. She was a decidedly Southern belle, with an impressive collection of ball-dancing shoes in all different colors, which we found in the attic. She was a size 5 and I a size 7.5 so I felt like Cinderella's stepsister when I looked at her shoes.

On the day she came, she only took the valuable antiques she had there (a chest of drawers that I lusted after but that she declined to sell me) and gave away all her crystal, vases and candy dishes included, because to her it was all "junk." One woman's trash is another woman's treasure, and since my husband and I hadn't registered for crystal at our wedding, thinking it rather pretentious and unnecessary, I wasn't about to "throw it out," as she suggested I do before she left, getting into her new boyfriend's red convertible and driving away.

In my younger years, I had enough relationships that soured over time to realize that love simply isn't enough to make for a successful partnership but I'm sometimes surprised when I hear or see how quickly people give up on each other. I always thought that one advantage/disadvantage (whichever way you want to see it) about marriage was that dissolving it is a hassle, but I guess that's not a concern for some people. And, don't get me wrong, sometimes people wait too darned long to divorce although all they do is make each other miserable every day of their lives.

What I do know is that marriage is a daily commitment not only to work to make each other happy but also to tolerate, forgive, and respect each other. At least we're leaving our house with a better story to be told, one that doesn't end in divorce and acrimony, but one that I hope leaves a perfume of contentedness behind.

Still, as those who know me know, I'm not a person to dwell in the past. After a certain point, mulling over what has already happened is one of the most unproductive things people can do. So I thank our house for bringing us so much joy for so long, and look forward toward the next house we'll own, and more immediately, to the new little apartment in the woods, where we are slowly, but decidedly, settling in.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Second days

On this, the second day of living in our new small apartment in the woods, everyone seems to have adjusted pretty well. Darwin has come out from under the love seat that now sits in what will be my husband's office, and Magellan has taken full possession of the place, liking most of all to lie on top of the coffee table in the living room, something she never did in the large house in the tiny city.

I think that she has discovered the coffee table now because it affords her a strategic vantage point from where she can watch both large picture windows, and because it keeps her close to where I spend most of my non-moving-around-doing-chores-and-organizing time now, both to watch TV or use the laptop. I really like using the laptop while I'm sitting comfortably on our wonderful couch and can also look out both windows. The cats definitely know what they're doing.

Rusty didn't have much appetite this morning but his bout of puking seems to be over, and he's also enjoying taking his pick of where to lie down around the apartment: the wonderful bed that his titi D gave him, which is now in the living room, or his fluffy rug in the bedroom, or any spot in the carpet that he fancies at a particular moment.

Geni is, of course, happiest in the kitchen, although she also likes the carpet in the apartment, specifically a spot in the very short hallway to the bedrooms. As you may imagine, having plump Geni spread right where we must pass in order to get to the other half of the apartment isn't ideal so I'm constantly shooing her back into the kitchen.

For the first time in weeks, as the skies begin to darken because of an impending thunderstorm, I'm feeling like this is (finally!) a lazy Sunday I might just enjoy as such, even though I've been up and about since before 6:30 a.m. getting things unpacked, cleaned, and organized. My husband took off early in the truck and will be returning later with another truck full of "stuff," as he likes to call the things I've collected (he is a true Spartan minimalist) throughout our married years and before.

I can hear the distant thunder, and so can Darwin, who keeps looking back at me as if for reassurance that all will be well, while a refreshing, rain-cooled breeze is blowing in through the open windows, significantly improving on the muggy, hot start to the day. The rain should be here any moment now. Maybe this is a good time to take a hint from Rusty and Geni, and go take a nap before my husband arrives laden with stuff.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The chickadees, of course

Today dawned as my first day in our new apartment in the woods at my small college on the hill. Yesterday afternoon, the dogs and I came up with the bare minimum that would fit in my small Scion, and then in the evening, after he was done with a busy workday, my husband loaded up the truck and brought more essential things. This included the cats, food, cutlery, dishes and glasses, as well as the TV and the computer, which are to be hooked up this afternoon by a cable guy.

After delivering the felines, which don’t travel well at all (Darwin yowled for an entire hour!), my husband went back as the sun was setting to get the house ready for the movers, who were there first thing this morning. I stayed back and fashioned a makeshift bed for myself with two large pillows and several comforters. This arrangement not only failed the attempt at achieving comfort, but I also worried all night about something crawling up from the carpet into the “bed.”

As you may imagine, and as anyone who has moved with cats would know, the night wasn’t a restful one at all. The cats woke me up several times during the night with some mischief. Then Magellan decided at 5:45 a.m. that it was time for some TLC, so I figured I needed to get a lot done before the movers arrived, and I gave up the attempt at sleep. I'm still hoping to get some kind of nap this afternoon, although it's looking less and less likely as I find more and more things that need to be done.

This is Magellan’s fifth move with us (her first was from our house in Puerto Rico to a small apartment in the suburbs of Columbus, then from that apartment to a two-story suburban house, then to the four-level house -- counting the basement, 1st floor, 2nd floor and attic -- in the tiny city, and now to this 2-room apartment in the woods). For Darwin, this is only his third move with us and he’s been freaking out ever since he arrived. Magellan, on the other hand, is taking the change of digs with greater aplomb, evidencing her characteristic “I am an Empress” attitude.

In the dog department, Geni couldn’t care less where she is as long as she has food and a comfy bed, but Rusty has been very unhappy. He threw up yesterday all over the apartment’s Berber carpet (thankfully, it’s a very dark color), and this morning he threw up his dinner and wouldn’t have his breakfast. He was relatively enthusiastic about his walk, so I’m hoping that once the furniture arrives and my husband is here, his sense of utter disruption will subside, and his stomach will settle.

Also last evening, my husband set up the bird feeders (except the hummingbird feeder, which the squirrels broke when it hung outside the window of the other apartment, and which now requires retooling). Not one bird had come to the feeders until only a little while ago, when a chickadee (of course) found the seed and sang her appreciation loudly. The cats are enjoying looking out for the birds from both large picture windows, so at least that’s keeping them otherwise engaged this morning.

While I wait for the movers, I’m testing out a MacBook that I was loaned by the college to see whether I want one for my own use so I thought I’d use my TV-less and Internet-less time profitably and write today’s post.

Out there, all is serene, especially since there are only 7 of the 16 apartments occupied at this time. In the courtyard, a bird just chased an insect, a black horned moth set himself on the opened window pane, and the squirrels are foraging under the trees, unaware (as of yet) that there is bird seed here. A Daddy Longlegs appears to be trying to eat a small piece of nut (about the same size as its own body) from the bird seed that I put out this morning.

Rusty is fast asleep on his bed. And I wish I could do the same but that will have to wait until after the movers arrive.


Afternoon update:

The movers came and left and I've arranged the apartment in a way I hope my husband likes when he arrives a little later with another full truck load.

Rusty ate his breakfast (a few minutes ago) and is snoozing at my feet. I'm really liking this MacBook, best of all because I now have cable and internet so I'm back in touch with the world.

All is well that continues well.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Glorious July, Part II

On another glorious July afternoon, one that will go into the annals of my memory as among the most beautiful I've lived to witness, my husband and I got on the motorcycle again.

This time, we went off to the other park we hadn't yet had a chance to get to this year (the one I'd hoped we'd go to last week but it was not to be).

Once there, we did a little over 2 miles of their trails, delighting in the sun, the breeze, the calls of the birds, and the gorgeous displays that nature put on for us (well, not actually for us but we were glad to be allowed to partake of it).

A solitary bench with a view of the trail enticed us to stop and meditate on things important and unimportant. But we kept going.

In the distance, the city loomed, busy and hurried. On the ridge, it was just a mirage atop a hazy horizon.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Glorious July

My husband's favorite month of summer is June, but I have to say that my favorite one is July. Hands down. July is a true-summer month, with hotter days and cool nights, and not much of the muggy, horrid humidity that August will bring.

Last evening, my husband and I took our first motorcycle trip of the year, visiting a protected pond area near the suburb where we used to live four years ago, before we moved to the tiny city.

This pond area is a place of utter serenity and beauty, where flocks of Canada geese glide happily on the water, and where we saw the cutest of all Belted Kingfishers hunting from the top of a dead tree in the water.

The pond includes a trail that is less than a mile long so we decided to walk it. As we entered the trail, I read a large sign that said: "CAUTION: TICKS."

"Oh, no! Ticks!" I exclaimed, in horror, and stopped dead on my tracks.

"Is this going to a repeat of the grizzly bears?" my husband asked, recalling the time during our 10th anniversary in Montana when I refused to hike a trail in Glazier National Park because of the large sign that read: "CAUTION: YOU ARE IN GRIZZLY COUNTRY."

"No," I assured him, sounding more convinced than I actually was, and making him promise me that he'd check me over for ticks when we finished our walk, like I've seen chimps do to each other. Of course, unlike the chimps, he wouldn't be required to eat any ticks he found (and I'm happy to report that he didn't find any).

At one point during our walk, my husband halted and pointed something out excitedly to me, looking toward the high, blond grass. Because I tend to be one-track-minded about such things, I thought it was a tick so I started swatting myself and jumping around trying to get it off me. When he assured me it was not an insect, and when I was calm enough to listen, he told me there was a deer hiding in the tall grass.

Lo and behold, there it was! A beautiful young buck, with his perfect, velvet antlers, looked straight at us, and then straight at my husband's camera before bounding into the grassy meadow and vanishing.

Today, in this near-repeat of yesterday's glory, I'm hoping we'll take another ride to yet another park and hike the trails again to bask in the glorious weather of July. In these parts, summer is so so short, and there's so so much to enjoy.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The boys of summer

More than the 90-degree days, the air quality alerts, the heat indexes, or the humidity that feels like a wet blanket inside your lungs, nothing says summer in Ohio to me better than the real boys (and I guess girls) of summer: fresh peaches and nectarines.

I'm working through my first batch, which is staying cool in the refrigerator, and while these peaches and nectarines are not from Ohio (Georgia, actually), they're a clear sign that this is summer time. Every summer I regret that I don't eat enough fresh peaches (J. Alfred Prufrock, be darned!), so this year I intend to make amends for all those summers I wasn't eating peaches consciously enough.

Getting good peaches in Puerto Rico is almost impossible, of course, especially since they're shipped frozen and by the time they get to my tropical island they die a pretty quick death. And by living in farm country I've learned that nothing tastes as fantastic as when you can get it where it's actually grown. Thus, one of the perks of living up here, in this middle-of-nowhere place so often plagued by miserable weather, is the hand-picked peaches and the nectarines.

Now that my real summer has started -- I just turned in the grades for the summer program and am looking at the blank squares in my appointment book with glee -- I plan to make up for the crazy busy half of this year by doing nothing of any significance, and with a vengeance.

I recently ordered a few books from Amazon with a gift card that a kind friend gave me as a post-dissertation defense gift, and recently received my choices, which are now stacked on top of War and Peace, awaiting me. I felt positively reckless two nights ago when I started Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford for which I have absolutely no purpose except enjoying her humor and her writing, which I adore (especially now that I've read or heard audiobooks of Jane Austen's novels so often that I might actually know most of her novels by heart).

Today I'm going up to my small college on the hill to take care of a few odds and ends, and later this week I'm going to the humongous university from where I'll graduate in August to order my regalia, return library books I've had for years, and officially checkout of my department.

This is a summer that marks many endings, and an equal number of beginnings. How appropriate that the time is rife with golden, fuzzy peaches and shiny, smooth nectarines. I can't wait to take a bite!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

To my husband

Today we are 14 years old
And I wanted to write you a poem
One I’ve been composing for a long, long time

One that would capture your smile
Like dappled sunshine, playing hide and seek among the forest trees
One that would feel your laughter
Like tropical rainfall, drumming on large green plantain leaves.
One that would invoke your love
Like a vast ocean, reflecting blue-green depths into my open skies.

Today our marriage is teen-aged
And I wanted to give you a poem
One I’ve been imagining for a long, long time

But I’m no poet
And I can barely write what I mean
In this language that is mine but not mine and will never be
Because it won’t bend to my will

Today our marriage is 14 years old
And still my heart skips when I look at you
And still I miss you when you’re away
And still I prefer you to anyone else
And still I thrill at your kiss

Not bad for 14 years
Not bad at all

Today is our 14th anniversary
And I wanted to gift you a poem
One that has been in the making for about that long

But I’m no poet
And won’t be one soon
So I guess you’ll have to wait for another 14.