Sunday, August 31, 2008

Quilted stories, quilted life

Today, my very cool-looking husband and I went out on the motorcycle again with the purpose of chasing horses, like we go out chasing swallows and stars.

The week after graduation was inordinately busy with the start of classes, but I'm starting to get into a groove, which feels much more mellow now that I don't have a dissertation hanging perpetually over my head.

Before hopping onto the moto to search for horses, my husband and I walked to the Craft Center of my small college on the hill so I could (finally!) register for quilting classes. I've been wanting to do that since 2006, when I started here, but back then I couldn't get to registration and the class filled up. Last year, I purposefully decided to postpone quilting class until 2008 because the Monster had to have all of my attention.

With the Monster now laid to rest for a while, I can (finally!) start branching out into heretofore unexplored interests, like quilting. I'm not actually good at doing much of anything with my hands (other than typing), but I'm going to give quilting a try. I love quilts and I'd like to try to make at least something that reflects my taste in them.

(Next year, I'm thinking of taking the black & white photography class. In the meantime, I've signed up for a one-day photography workshop this coming weekend so maybe the pictures here will improve.)

My first class meetings were good. I seem to have strong, if small, groups and because few things energize me like teaching I had a lot of fun on Friday during my first classes. I also met with my advisees, who are a small, but eclectic group that I am hell bent on serving well.

Unlike these past summer Saturdays, yesterday was an errand day in the big city, and while I got a break to have a too-quick lunch with my lovely and very pregnant friend KG, most of the time was spent rushing around town before heading back up here to our tiny apartment where all our peludos and my husband awaited.

So today was our official day off and on the moto we went, trolling for horses. While on other trips we have seen maybe several dozen horses, today we only saw four that I could get close enough to photograph and only 2 of those yielded a photo good enough to post here.

After our largely failed mission with the horses, we did stop at a nearby orchard so I could stock up on the season's last peaches (this time they're white peaches, which are simply exquisite), and firm, tart apples, the fall's perennial fruit. This summer's fourth? fifth? sixth? peach cobbler is now in the oven. Perhaps to be followed tomorrow by an apple pie for my husband, who's not big on peaches.

Tomorrow, I return to yoga early in the morning and then have more meetings with advisees and class prep to look forward to. But at least the semester has started slow, slower than I can remember, which I guess is normal pace now that I'm not trying to be a professor and a graduate student at the same time.

Outside, the night is alive with the chirping and crackle and sizzle of insects. Inside, my husband watches motorcycle racing, while Geni snores loudly in the kitchen, Magellan sits regally, like the statue of an Egyptian cat, on the living room table, and Darwin stretches lazily on one of the arms of the over sized chair.

Rusty, who also sleeps, is now almost fully recovered from an obviously painful infection that had nearly closed his right eye (diagnosed by our new veterinarian in the nearby town). He is a changed dog. Today he brought his ball to my husband, who threw it so the dog could chase it for a few minutes around the tiny apartment, as my husband and I looked on agape. Gone is the pained, droopy dog of the past few months. Enter a nearly 15-year-old puppy.

I am staring at this glowing screen for a few minutes longer, about to call it a night. I'm still excited at the prospect that I'll actually learn to quilt because perhaps I'll learn to tell my quilted stories in a different kind of way.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


The scale of a graduation at Ohio State University is almost unimaginable. I'm not sure how many people graduated today but my husband estimates that there were close to 2,000 undergraduates.

The Ph.D.s alone (if you look closely at the photo above we're the ones in the scarlet and gray robes at the very front) numbered about 300, and then there were another 600 or so masters' degrees handed out.

We all crammed into the basketball stadium, which, unlike the football stadium that is used for the spring graduation, is air conditioned, and went through a three-hour ceremony that seemed absolutely endless. While the Ph.D.s were the only ones who had their names called out when we received our diplomas from the university president, every single graduate today received their diploma from their dean and had the chance to shake the president's hand. That's what makes this ceremony particularly lengthy, if also very special to everyone there.

At Harvard, they just pronounce you graduated and you get your diploma in the mail. It makes for a short and sweet ceremony but one that's oddly disappointing because of its anonymity. No so today's, when I had my name read aloud (the dean further Hispanicized my middle name rather than giving it its French pronunciation) before the president handed me my diploma and congratulated me very nicely.

As I walked back to my seat, where I would spend the next seemingly interminable 2 hours, I actually heard my sister's very loud cheer and waved in the direction of my family, who hardly could see me as you can see from how small I am in all these photos that my husband took. But the fact that the photos maintain my anonymity works since I can share them with you here.

Tomorrow, my sister and my mom leave, and I attend an academic fair in the morning and then take Rusty to his new vet here in the nearby town in the afternoon. On Thursday the semester begins and I start teaching Friday. Summer is, indeed, over, and my third academic year at the small college on the hill will begin somewhat soon.

But a lot has changed since I first drove up this hill two years ago. I've now literally earned the stripes that allow me to, finally, play in the major leagues. Let the game begin!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

We are family

Tonight my husband and I are basically exhausted after driving 250 miles each in separate cars to transport my visiting family members to and from the large city (where the humongous university from where I'll graduate tomorrow is located) to the small college on the hill and back again and back again.

My mom, my younger sister and my two nieces/goddaughters went with me in my trusty, salsa-red Scion XA, while my nephew/godson traveled with my husband in the ugly but useful black pickup truck.

Once here, and after having a great lunch at the college's first-rate cafe, we gathered in our small living room, and talked all at the same time, telling jokes and funny stories, and laughing raucously at Darwin's antics. Dr. S and my wonderful former student (who will soon be departing to spend a semester in Chicago) visited for a little while, too, and partook of the fourth fresh peach cobbler I've made so far this summer.

After Dr. S and my wonderful former student left, we stepped outside to spend a little time in the courtyard, where my mom and three of her six grandchildren had a grand old time on the swing.

My sister, who yesterday had her glorious, curly hair cut by my magician-stylist, found a way to keep her hair up in the heat by borrowing our meat thermometer when we failed to produce a chop stick. She's a very resourceful woman, that's for sure.

Before evening came, we drove all five of them back to the large city, dropping them off at the curb of their hotel, and taking off quickly thereafter to make the long trek back before night fell. Tomorrow, my husband and I will do the same round trip so we can all attend Commencement at the humongous university's basketball stadium, which is thankfully air-conditioned.

While my father and my brother (and his family) won't be with us, they will be very present in my heart, along with my failing grandmother, who, until her mind wandered recently away, never to return again, always remembered tomorrow's date as my graduation.

Tomorrow, the episode of the doctorate will be officially behind me once my wonderful advisor hoods me and the university president hands me my diploma with the title Doctor of Philosophy. I think I'm definitely going to have to cry a little then.

I'll never scale Everest or any mountain, for that matter. But tomorrow I'll be as close as I'll ever get to the feeling of heady accomplishment that doing so (and surviving) surely entails.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

On another summer day

On yet another glorious summer day (this has been the most beautiful summer I remember here!), my husband and I jumped on the motorcycle and went off adventuring toward a nearby state park. The road rose to meet us as we sped though fields and hills and passed farm after farm after farm into the forested world that awaited us.

Our first stop was a ancient gorge with an overlook that feasts the eyes with acre after acre of trees.

After the gorge, we visited an old covered bridge, one of the many found in this state. The afternoon sun shimmered in the clear water like a jewel.

On the way back, we stopped to capture the image of a picture-perfect Amish farm, complete with a flawless red barn. Nearby stood a simple but also perfect Amish school with blue curtains covering the windows.

Once we were back in our own haunts, we stopped at an ancient church that still stands to commemorate the founding of my small college on the hill.

Our next photographic safari will be dedicated to the wonderful horses, including miniature ponies, you can see around here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A different kind of life

Undoubtedly, it's a very different kind of life we live here now. This is the third fresh peach cobbler I've baked from scratch in about a week's time. The peaches come from a nearby orchard, and the crust of each cobbler is half of the infallible Martha Stewart recipe for Pâtee Brisée.

The first cobbler I made about a week ago when I had a former student and a new colleague-friend over for fried chicken. The fried chicken was disappointing (I'm still mastering that dish), but the cobbler was alright, especially since the peaches were so fresh and juicy.

After having that little dinner party (sans my husband), Dr. S returned from England last week and on Monday evening she invited a group of colleague-friends and a former student for dinner at her apartment, which used to be mine. An accomplished cook, baker, and basically accomplished at anything she sets her mind to do, Dr. S had us over for some gloriously scrumptious garlic shrimp pasta, a mozzarella, tomato and pasta salad, and fresh blueberries and vanilla ice cream.

The second cobbler I made Tuesday for a dinner at our dog-loving colleague-friends who teach the 18th century. That cobbler was a little overcooked on the bottom (I'm still figuring out my new oven), but everyone liked it.

Accomplished cooks themselves, our colleague-friends treated us to their famously delicious Indian cooking (I've never had lamb the way they prepare it!), and while I had promised myself that I wouldn't eat a lot, I had to repeat on the lamb palak because it was simply too good to have only once.

The third cobbler, the one pictured above, I made this afternoon for a meeting I have tonight with two boricua colleague-friends. One of them is hosting us at her house in the nearby town so we can plan a Latin@ film series for which we got some funds from my small college on the hill.

OK, so that's four social engagements in about 10 days. That's about the number of social engagements we had in a year when we lived in the tiny city! When I told my husband (who's not a social butterfly by any means) that we had another dinner invitation for Tuesday evening, his skeptical eyebrow came up and I could hear him thinking: "A second dinner! Didn't we have one last night?"

Before he balks I'll have to start accepting invitations only on my behalf, and leave him contentedly behind at home, or he'll suffer an overdose of socializing. And while I'm no social butterfly myself (I do cherish my solitude and the time I spend alone with my husband), I love the feeling of being part of a community of colleagues and friends who gets together often and cooks marvelous food and has a good time together.

In any event, just like the tiger-striped one that graced my new garden recently, butterflies, even the not-social kind, are welcome.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto

Yesterday, a former student and I went searching for birthday cards at the Hallmark in the larger town next to the tiny town where my small college on the hill is located. I was particularly interested in the Maya Angelou collection, which is always lovely both aesthetically and in terms of the written thoughts it offers.

"We've discontinued that line," the attendant at the store said after I inquired.

"Do you mean Hallmark has discontinued the line, or this store?" I asked to know more precisely.

"This store," she said, a little defensively. "Not a lot of people got them so the store doesn't buy them anymore."

This area of Ohio is clearly 99.9999999% white so it might not be surprising that people here wouldn't buy the Angelou cards but I was still a little taken aback.

"This town is simply too white," I murmured while the attendant, now somewhat apologetically, went to find me the one last remaining Angelou card in the store: one expressing sympathy. I thanked her, but said: "No, thanks," and moved on to peruse the funny Hoops and Yoyo section to see if I found anything remotely adequate for what I wanted.

On my way there I passed the large "Christian Sentiments" section of cards, which I'd never noticed at any of the city Hallmarks I'm used to shopping at, and then I was reminded how Christianity in these parts trumps diversity.

It was one of those "We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto" moments when you realize you're no longer in (or remotely near) the place where you come from.

Oh, well. That's part of the price one pays for moving to a small place like this, I know. But when that price becomes that evident, even in a simple moment like this when I can't find the type of greeting card I want for what might just be a somewhat racist reason (after all, the Angelou cards are not just for people of color, right?), I get an uneasy feeling.

Where there is light, there is shadow (and vice versa), I remind myself. And I know I can always find my favored Angelou cards at the Hallmark near my old tiny city, or at the mall, or at any of the places where people of color exist in enough numbers that Angelou (and, with her, the recognition that not all in this world is whiteness) cannot be discarded.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

To race a swallow, Part II

Yesterday gave us another gorgeous summer afternoon, perfect for getting on the motorcycle once more and for racing the swallows as we searched for the lazy hay bales that have sat on green fields all summer, like fat sea lions sunning.

As our luck, and my absolute lack of knowledge about the cycles of farming, would have it, 9 out of 10 fields we passed (the same ones we'd seen on Saturday) no longer had bales strewn around but they had all been picked up and neatly collected (if boringly, for a picture) on the edge of the field.

My husband, however, was not to be deterred, and we rode road after road, many with very cool names, until we hit upon a field with the bales as I'd wanted to show them to you.

The roads with interesting names that we were on included Dog Hollow Road, Eden Church Road, Clutter Road, Camp Ohio Road, and Divan Road (on Saturday we'd gone looking for Owl Creek Church Road, but didn't find a way in, only passed the way out...).

We also went on Black Snake Road, which lived up to its name by being full of potholes and rough stretches, but which led to Purity Road, which was smooth and well maintained. Who says life doesn't speak metaphorically, too?

Summer in Ohio is glorious, as I've already mentioned, and this photo essay is aimed at sharing some of this agricultural country's beauty with you. Even the weeds, the humble milkweed, and the prickly one whose name I don't know, bask in the sun and add something to the view.

My husband had planned for us to leave around 7:30 p.m., about an hour or so before sunset, to get the benefit of the best light, and he was right. Everything we saw shone with the glow of late afternoon sun.

We whizzed by farm after farm after farm, and I remembered fondly the Fisher Price farm set I had as a little girl, which included a black-and-white cow, a red rooster, and a brown horse. I absolutely loved that set but, before moving to Ohio, it was as close as I ever came to a farm. Now, farms are all the eye can see as far as it can see, and now the cows, including the black-and-white (Holstein) ones, and the handsome brown, black and white horses, are all real.

Horses are, of course, a mainstay of life around here, especially for the Amish, who depend on their horses for their transportation.

We, on the other hand, were on a motorcycle, perhaps as far on the opposite end of the spectrum of ground transportation as you can get from the sign above. As the day faded, we raced toward the sinking light, aiming for the little piece of this countryside county we now call home.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

To race a swallow

The weather forecast for today might as well have read: "Glorious. A perfect summer day." So my husband and I decided to get up before 7 a.m. to run and walk (he ran, I walked) a 5K through the winding trails of my small college on the hill's environmental center.

The trail turned out to be the most difficult either one of us has either run or hiked on, one that not only snaked through the forest through impossibly narrow trails, but included not only one very steep hill but also what to me looked like the side of a tall mountain, on the second loop around.

I'd already completed almost 2 miles when I faced that second climb, and a part of me was like: "Hell, no! Turn around and quit." But the woman warrior in me chaffed at the idea of quitting, so I decided to take it slow, and to enjoy the scenery as the climb got higher and higher and higher. Do you know the metaphor about facing a mountain that must be scaled? Well, this felt like the literal experience.

But once I got to the top I was elated. I thought: "Not bad for a near-47-year-old survivor of two major surgeries, an asthmatic, and the only non-runner among all the 30 people or so who ran the race today, including the kids!" So I patted myself in the back and kept on going to finish the 3-mile walk in about an hour (my husband finished in half that time). The athletic pre-college teenager who won did the 3 miles in 22 minutes so you can just imagine how difficult the course must have been.

He told my husband that when he faced the mountain he considered walking up to the top, rather than running, since not a soul was behind him. But when he saw the person who awaited with the Gatorade and words of encouragement at the top he decided he didn't want to chicken out in front of that guy, so he ran up. Kudos to him.

I also had no one behind me (I was the last of all those who participated), or in front of me, for that matter, since I had been promptly left in the dust by all the runners. But I had no qualms about taking my time going up the mountain, and I'm glad I did.

Once we were back, exhausted but happy, I cleaned up and went with one of my very favorite former students and a new colleague-friend to the farmer's market. We stocked up on fresh goodies, and I came back to take a much-needed nap. Later in the afternoon, my husband and I suited up and hopped on the motorcycle for a perfect ride through the hills and valleys and farms and little towns of this county.

Several times, it seemed like we were racing swallows, who would fly by our side for a short distance before veering suddenly away. The white cumulus clouds hung low and heavy in the horizon, the sun shone bright on a blue-blue sky, while the breeze tickled the white wildflowers, which seemed to be laughing. The short soy plants appeared to wave goodbye as we whizzed by, and the tall corn stalks stood like an army at attention, waiting for some Deity to command them into motion. Field after field flowed in waves of green, like an ocean of leaves.

In one turn we saw one farmer on our right side plowing his field with a tractor, and on the next turn, to our left, we saw a young Amish farmer doing the same with a team of horses. This is country country, no doubt about it.

There is no better way to celebrate the completion of a 5K than to eat locally made ice cream so we stopped at a famous site near my small college on the hill, and then came home to have a meal mostly comprised of fresh locally grown veggies. As the day comes to an end, the breeze still rustles the leaves of the trees outside and the swing calls me to keep it company with a good book before the mosquitoes leave their tiny coffins and come out for blood.

Friday, August 1, 2008

First and last

The first day of August also signals the last month of summer because although the season technically ends in September, once classes begin the feel of summer is over. This is also the day that I scheduled as the start of getting serious about preparing classes and organizing myself for my semester, which begins in 27 days.

This year has been one of moves: moving from being a seemingly eternal Ph.D. candidate to becoming Dr. G, moving from having a dismembered Monster to successfully putting it all together, moving from our large house in the tiny city to the little apartment in the woods at my small college on the hill, moving from the city to the country, moving from being a near penniless grad student to being a professor with more financial flexibility, moving from being a commuter to being a resident, and so on. That's a lot of moves.

All that moving hasn't been conducive to sitting down and reading, so I never did get to War and Peace, as I'd hoped, but I did start on Cranford and on Laughing Without an Accent, which I may yet finish before it's time to stop pussyfooting around and do school-related work once more. At least, for the first time in 2 years, I won't have to do the schoolwork and have my Monster crouching in a corner, too.

And there may yet be one more move, once we sell the house, which seems like it will never happen, and buy another one in the little pueblito that we now call home. I feel a lot more settled now that I'm living here and visiting the large house occasionally, although I know I won't feel wholly settled until the house is finally in someone else's hands.

But we've managed to adapt pretty well to cutting our living space by what seems like 100%. We even had some friends over for an informal dinner two nights ago and although we had to eat with our plates on our laps (the guests had dinner trays), we had a good time. Geni loved the attention while Rusty barked a little from the bedroom, where I ensconced him, but then quieted down and went to sleep on his rug.

With the two of us plus four furry critters, I really like the fact that the apartment is so easy to clean, and I know the old dogs appreciate that there are no stairs to climb. While Magellan seems to like it here, Darwin isn't as happy with his reduced circumstances. His latest idea of fun is to run in circles around the entire apartment as many times as he can before he exhausts himself. His favorite sleeping place, for some reason we cannot fathom, is among my husband's shoes in his closet. Magellan, meanwhile, likes to disappear under the oversized chair in the living room or under a tableclothed table there, too.

There's one problem about having the dogs and the cats so close to each other that I didn't anticipate, and that's Geni having access to the litter box. Because Geni was a street dog, she has a real taste for other animals' poop, which I guess was a way to get protein when she couldn't get anything else to eat. But that's not her situation anymore, of course. And while you can take the dog out of the street, Geni is living proof that you can't take the street out of the dog.

I had started to worry that the cat's digestion was affected by the move because I hadn't cleared any poop from the litter box in days when I caught Geni enthusiastically sniffing around the boxes. I will leave the rest to your imagination, but I've now gated the litter boxes to prevent her having access to what she perceives as a delicacy. Like my husband likes to say: Dogs are disgusting creatures.

When I'm not dealing with literal comemierdas, I am enjoying taking a bike ride into the pueblito to check the mail, or having access to all kinds of people who do all kinds of things. I had a parka with a broken zipper and found a woman who'll repair it for about $10. She also is going to repair a bed cover my 98-year-old grandmother gave me, which has started unraveling because of age. That's priceless.

And I really like being able to take the bike and meet a student or a colleague-friend at the college's cafe for a chat or to catch up on what's happening with our lives. It's really an idyllic life in so many ways, and I wonder when and whether I'll tire of it.

For now, there's nothing to get tired about, and while August does signal the end to my free time, which hasn't been as free as I would've liked, I'm not complaining. I've had a very good summer and there's still plenty of summer left to enjoy. That's definitely my plan.