Thursday, November 27, 2008

Counting blessings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Monday, November 24, 2008

November colors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2008

The first snow

Flurries falling, quiet and fast.

Dreaded, gray winter arrives.

Fall, its shades of orange, was short.

Winter draws first snow in white.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Face off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The quilt is done!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Late fall in the country

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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