Friday, October 31, 2008

La noche de las brujas

Every Halloween, for a while now, I don my fabulous black witch's hat, complete with a tall, pointy peak and a mysterious veil decorated with fake spiders and cobwebs. The hat boasts a huge, black spider with red eyes at its very center, just where the peak begins to rise. It's very creepy, and I adore it.

It's the kind of hat that has sent toddlers running and sobbing away from me every Halloween I've worn it, which always leads my husband to grouse about the hat being so scary to little kids. But that's the point, right? No pun intended, of course.

This Halloween was no different. A blond, all-decked-out-in-a-black-cape, complete with widow's peak, Dracula didn't want to approach me until I lifted the veil and promised him that I was a good witch, who didn't eat children, just candy. Then a big smile broke on his face and he came eagerly forward to get his share of a bounty that never runs out and saddles us with pounds of candy we don't need or really even want to eat. I think I'll definitely have to scale down my candy purchases next year, even though at least 50 kids came by this time around.

The toddler child of a neighbor also refused to come near me until I took the hat off and assured her it was me, the neighbor she's seen so many, many times before. After she'd taken her candy, I asked her whether I could put my hat back on, and she said, very firmly, "No."

I love giving out candy to the kids and trying to guess what their different get ups are. This year I fared much better than in the past when I would incur a kid's contempt by totally misidentifying their disguise.

"You're a Ninja Turtle!" I would exclaim confidently.

"No, I'm a Commando 20," or some such thing, the offended child would say as he huffed away with his candy.

"You're a beautiful princess," I would try again, with some gauzily decked-out child.

"No, I'm a vampire queen," the umbraged girl would retort.

Today my biggest mistake was guessing that a Goth-looking girl was a vampire princess before she corrected me to say that she was actually a punk rocker.

"Well, many punk rockers want to be vampire princesses," I mused to myself.

My mom, who visits me every year for my birthday and Halloween, always notes that I enjoy the holiday more than the kids do, and I think that's probably true. I just love being out there with my witch's hat on Halloween and I enjoy the innocence of the children and the fun they seem to have. I remember loving Halloween ever since I was a child, though hard as I try I can't remember any Halloween of mine, except perhaps the one or two when I got a second birthday celebration for reasons I can't remember.

Today's trick-or-treating at day's end was a fitting conclusion to a crazy busy week and to an even crazier busier day when almost every moment was taken up by a meeting with a student, with colleagues or with teaching class. Earlier during the day, the tiny town held its annual Halloween Parade, which I've heard is famously cute. So I entreated my husband to take my mom while I was teaching and to take some pictures.

This great parade of ghouls is the perfect photo to capture the spirit of the day, no pun intended either. (Tomorrow, my abuelita would've turned 98. Feliz cumpleaños, abuelita. If tonight is the night when spirits get to be abroad for a while, I hope you get to feel how much I miss and love you.)

As for Halloween, one more has passed and it's always a little sad when I have to put away my witch's hat and my electric Great Pumpkin for another year, and it will be a little sad tomorrow when the cool pumpkin my husband carved up like a hatcheted head will be split and thrown into the woods to become fodder for hungry critters.

But that's the coolest thing about Halloween. Like my birthday, I hope to be able to enjoy it each and every year, for as long as I live.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Albuquerque blue

Last weekend, I found myself far away from Ohio, in Albuquerque, NM, attending the annual conference of the American Studies Association. It was the first time I went to a conference where I didn't have to present a paper, so I was virtually stress free, and could attend the panels I wanted to hear, and peruse the booths of book publishers, with nothing hanging over my head (except the eternal stacks of grading I always have waiting for me!).

This was my third time in Albuquerque, since I'd been there in the early 1990s with my dad to attend the National Hispanic Journalist Association, at the same hotel we were staying at this time. I believe a second time was when I went there in the late mid-1990s while I worked for the Puerto Rico government. I don't remember much about that trip, which is a sign of how unpleasant it was.

This time around, however, I met up in Albuquerque with my good friend, TK, she of the elegant treeness, and we had a lot of fun together. TK has been a friend and professional mentor since I began at Ohio State six years ago. Two years ahead of me in the program, but about 15 years younger, she and I became fast friends after embarking on several adventures together. Those included working in the same office, and then running for and being voted into several student government positions. The latter were among those misguided impulses I tend to fall into, like working for the government.

Albuquerque is not hard to navigate (at least the part we were in), so we soon got information on how to get to the Old Town by bus and off we were after settling into our large, comfy room, and after having a scrumptious lunch at the Gold Street Caffé, one of the best restaurants I've ever eaten at, ever. The top picture was the view from our 12th-floor room. Not bad at all.

What struck us both about Albuquerque was the pure, lit up, blueness of its sky. It's its own shade of Albuquerque blue, which contrasted to the pinks and burnt oranges and browns of its architecture, makes for wonderful views.

Old Town is tiny, and mostly filled with tourist traps that will charge you upwards of $250 for a necklace, but it's worth the short walk, and there's tons of shops to walk in and out of, as TK and I did. There's also gorgeous Southwestern architecture and flora, like this huge cactus with purple flowers, set against a pink adobe building with brown windows.

And then there's the piece de resistance in the middle of the tiny plaza, a gloriously beautiful church, with yellow-orange walls and white trim, and its many crosses rising against the bluest of skies.

That day there was a wedding being held at the church, and the bride was just walking out as TK and I wandered by. She had a long, gauzy veil, that dragged behind her, and she had to stop and ask her maid of honor to pick it up for her so she could get into the limo.

Our shopping thirsts sated (TK with some cool-looking T-shirts and I with a native made crucifix), we took the bus back to the hotel as the sun began to set and the azure blue began to fade into baby tones of pink. After we'd gotten off the bus, we walked by an intriguing-looking building, and took some pictures, because its colors and the decorations on the walls and windows were so unique.

Ultimately, the trip was as mellow as these pictures suggest, although while I was at the conference I got several good ideas of how I can make my scholarship stronger, and my research motors got all revved up. But when I came back home and was once again drowned in class prep and grading and meetings with students and colleagues, I've become completely mystified as to when I'll be able to get back to my writing.

With God's help, I'm pretty good at making things I want to happen, happen, so I've decided to aim for the week of Thanksgiving, when I have a full 7 days free, to make a research plan for the second half of this academic year.

This last trip to Albuquerque remains a vivid blue and pink memory, and like the mountains that rise majestically on its horizon, it reminded me that I still have horizons I want to move forward to.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Geni: Before & After

There's last weekend's trip to Albuquerque, NM, to tell you about (with photos), and many other things to say here, but right now I only have the time to show you Geni, before and after.

As you know, Geni is now a diabetic who needs insulin shots twice a day. Thus, I conceived the idea that it would be much easier to give her the shots if she was groomed and didn't have so much curly, impossibly kinky hair to deal with in the process.

So this morning, bright and early, I drove her to the vet (her least favorite place!) and she was groomed for the very first time in her life. I told the groomer to be kind, because she wasn't used to it, but when I picked her up the groomer gushed about her:

"You couldn't tell it was her first time. She was so nice about it!"

That's Geni for you. As my new vet said, she's the Ying to Rusty's Yang (or is it the other way around?).

At any rate, today Geni went from 15 years of looking like this:

To her new (but we're not sure if improved) self:

I didn't recognize her when I went to pick her up! But, as you can tell from her expression, she's still the same goofy, happy old mutt. But it's gonna take some getting used to seeing her without her trademark hair!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Buscando colores

This is my view each and every morning, as the two senile mutts and I take off on the first of our two daily walks.

Today we started a little later than usual because Tuesdays are a slower-paced day for me. I don't teach and don't hold office hours, and there were no meetings to attend, so I took longer than usual to get out of the door. I decided to take my little digital camera and go in search of some actual fall colors, which was a good idea because since then, the skies have become overcast and gray.

But earlier this morning, the sky was azure blue and it contrasted brightly against the flaming sugar maple in our neighbor's yard.

In our route, we came across other sugar maples in different stages of changing colors, like this one only now edging from greens to yellows with only hints of orange.

To this other one, on our way back home, which is already almost completely changed to the telltale hues of fall.

More telltale are the reddish brown leaves collected at the foot of an erstwhile beautiful maple that has already lost its leaves.

And the lipstick red berries peppering a small tree, awaiting the birds that will make good use of them through winter.

I love the way the light behaves in fall, because there is a magical quality to it that is not there for the other seasons of the year. On Monday, the sunlight played with shadows on the floor of my little kitchen.

And Darwin played with the sunlit rug, always in search of a way to make a nuisance of himself as he tries to relieve his eternal boredom, especially since Magellan disdains to play with him, and the dogs don't care much for him either.

Magellan, a true boricua, adores the sun, and now that it comes fully through the kitchen windows, she found a spot in Geni's favored bed where she could sunbathe and look regal, her bluest eye glinting in the sunlight, like a jewel.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The fall that hasn't been

Today the meteorologists are forecasting that we will either tie or break a record in high temperatures, reaching the mid 80s by this afternoon. The "normal" temperatures this time of year in Ohio hover around 68 degrees.

While I'm not complaining, and I rather like being able to open my windows wide and enjoy the breeze inside our tiny apartment, this fall hasn't been much of one. So instead of taking a picture of the non-existent colors outside, I've chosen one of my favorite pictures from last fall, one I took on Oct. 19 last year, when all of my small college on the hill was afire in hues of canary gold, bright orange, and mint green.

This fall has been very dry, so the trees look shriveled and ready to drop their leaves, and many have been dropping them even before they have fully changed color. It's chilly in the mornings, which is what helps the leaves along their color alterations (that and the shortening and lessening of the sunlight), but the days have been balmy and very, very dry.

Still, the nights are lovely, and one of the things I like most of living in these hilly latitudes (as opposed to the flat city), is that the stars are visible to the naked eye and the indigo sky, when it's not cloudy, puts on a show of tiny sparkling diamonds against black velvet, almost every night.

At my small college on the hill, we had two days of break this past week, Thursday and Friday, and I took advantage of the "free" time to rest up, watch my favorite TV shows, and take it relatively easy after a busy first half of the semester. My goal is to emerge from this short break tomorrow a little more organized and ready than I've been, and today is the day to achieve that goal.

In the home front, poor Geni was diagnosed with diabetes, and against my most secret wishes, I've had to learn to give her two shots of insulin a day. I hate needles but I'm now handling them on a daily basis. And I hate the thought of pricking her, but I'm also doing that twice a day. She's such an amiable dog that she doesn't even seem to notice, although she's starting to figure out that something weird is going on when I start grabbing folds of her skin, looking for the best place where the needle will go in easiest.

I try to cultivate the art of being a woman warrior, so when, after her diagnosis last week, the vet's tech ask whether I was ready to practice on Geni with a syringe filled with saline solution, I didn't hesitate. And neither did my husband.

Of course, my every fiber was screaming that this wasn't what we'd like to be doing (or should be doing, even) but when I asked the tech whether we could board her until she was stabilized for fear that I'd kill her with an overdose or some mishandling of the injection, the tech was adamant, "The dog will be happier at home."

Well, yes, I thought, but she might be dead a lot sooner, and I thought the whole purpose of this was to extend her life! Oh, well. What I've discovered is that while I'm not the most skilled nurse (I dropped one syringe twice and bent the needle on a second one so I had to discard it), I haven't killed her yet, and may actually not kill her at all. I guess, as with quilting, I have hidden talents that I only have to put my mind to them so they make themselves known. (Still, I'm not angling for a change in careers into nursing any time soon, mind you.)

The good thing, I guess, is that I can steel myself to do almost anything unpleasant that needs to be done. And that's a good skill to have and to cultivate. In that spirit, I'll stop wishing for last year's fall and try to make the most of this one, even if the leaves aren't worth taking pictures of, and even if the weather outside is good enough for beach time.

At least I have last year's photos to help me along.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Eating pernil in Ohio

This afternoon, my husband and I joined a group of Latin@s, other people of color, and Anglos from my small college on the hill for a pernilón, a typical Puerto Rican (or Latin American)-style party when a whole pig is roasted over an open fire.

This was a makeshift pit, as you can see (the photos are courtesy of the hosts), and the enormous pig, flattened and rubbed with delicious seasonings, including habanero peppers, was splayed under the foil paper and placed over the burning coals before dawn.

By 4 p.m. it was crispy and succulent and ready and there seemed to be more pernil served and eaten at that party than you can get in any one weekend at Guavate, Cayey, on my beautiful, pork-loving island.

I don't think I've ever eaten that much pernil in my life. And while I was vaguely afraid that it might not settle well after so many years without it, my body seemed to recognize it as a friendly and patriotic food, and all was well.

The gathering brought together the entire Puerto Rican coven at my small college on the hill (all of us women, all of us rather short, all of us dark-haired and fiery-tempered) at the house in the woods (a true cabaña) of the Puerto Rican colleague who is married to a charming Costa Rican, or tico, as they call themselves.

She and her tico husband were both generous and welcoming hosts, and my husband and I had a wonderful time, which is unusual for us, since we're rather unsociable (well, I tend to be a lot more social than my husband but even my socializing meter has a low filling point).

The pig roast was supposed to start at 2 p.m., but good to our culture, me and my other Puerto Rican colleague-friend decided we'd leave around 3 p.m., after her daughter had taken a nap and I'd returned from a quick shopping trip into the city with another friend. We arrived around 3:30 p.m., my husband and I thinking that we'd stay for about an hour, but it was close to 7 p.m. when we got back home. That's how good a time we had.

Not only was the pernil scrumptious, but for my husband, who's a vegetarian, there were platones full of arroz con gandules made by our host without any meat so that everyone could enjoy. And it was the most delicious arroz con gandules I've ever had, and I don't even like that typical Puerto Rican dish!

Filled to our bellies' and to our hearts' content, we left the party before nightfall while it was still going strong with many people gathered in groups, eating up a storm and chatting about anything and everything. Children ran and yelled and laughed all over the open grounds of the little house in the woods. It was a charming time and it reminded me so much of the family gatherings we had back when I was a child, not in cold Ohio, of course, but in warm, tropical Puerto Rico.

Still, even in the wilds of Ohio, leave it to a tiny group of Puerto Ricans and Latin Americans to put together the pig roast to end all pig roasts in this part of the world. We carry the ability to produce calor, of both the cooking and the human kind, in our bloods.

I thank God for that. Like my favorite song says: yo sería borincana aunque naciera en la luna. I wouldn't have it any other way.