Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Visiting with Poe

During our one full day in Philadelphia, my husband had planned that we would visit the Edgar Allan Poe House where Poe lived for about a year in the 1840s and penned "The Black Cat," my very favorite of his short stories.

My beloved husband, who often surprises me with these wonderfully thoughtful plans, had done all the research himself and had told me of them before we left on Tuesday so I would have something fun to look forward to before my panel. We awoke early, took a cab and were at the door of the Poe house minutes before it opened at 9 a.m.

The site, run by the National Park Service, is sparse, with no furniture or re-creations of scenes, but the rangers proved to be downright scholarly in their knowledge of Poe's life and works, and listening to their stories and walking through the largely empty house was a wonderful treat, especially the large painting of "The Raven" and the very chilly and spooky cellar, which likely helped inspire Poe's own descriptions of cellars in many of his stories.

The site also has its own Raven statue and I was happy to find a fake raven for myself at the tiny gift store (more like a few shelves in an ante-chamber to the actual house). I spent almost $100 at the store in teaching aides and books, including a fascinating biography that I started reading immediately.

The visit with Poe seemed to set the tone for a very good visit to Philadelphia where my MLA panel was excellent, and well attended, and my presentation well received. This good recpetion includes the possibility that I may be asked to contribute my paper on Sophia Hawthorne (the topic of the panel) to a special edition of a journal.

I also got to meet Sophia Hawthorne's main biographer, who was one of the panelists and who happens to have lived in Puerto Rico during her childhood. Her work has paved the way for others like me to produce new scholarship on this most intriguing nineteenth-century American woman.

All in all, and except for the heartbreak of having lost one of the brand-new, gold hoop earrings that my husband gave me for Christmas, the visit to Philadelphia was well worth it and a good way to spend one of the last days of 2009.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Philadelphia bound

In the early morning, my husband and I set out in my trusty salsa-red Scion bound for Philadelphia so I could present a paper the next day at MLA, the largest and most significant conference in my discipline. With the white clouds on a blue sky reflected in my side view mirror, we arrived into Philadelphia during rush hour but were in our comfortable Marriott room by nightfall and ready to paint the town red (well, not really, but I like that expression).

We met up with my long-time friend, TK, and set off in a cab for Cuba Libre, a Cuban restaurant that I had visited two years ago when I had been at MLA also to present a paper and was invited by my newly acquired friends and colleagues from my small college on the hill to join them at this restaurant. The visit was memorable then as it was now not only because of the fantastic mojitos, a Cuban rum drink with mint and lemon, but also because of the almost industrial quantities of food we were served and ate.

I had actually decided to go with side dishes and had ordered four of those (tostones, mofongo, arroz con frijoles negros and yuca frita), thinking these would be more like tapas or small portions to accompany larger dishes. I was utterly embarrased and not a little mortified when huge plates overflowing with food (enough for about five people, not one) arrived and were placed right in front of me! (Needless to say, we arrived in Maryland the following day with a shopping-bag full of leftovers.)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Domestic scenes

My husband doesn't do leisure very well so, now that he's officially on vacation because his clients are off for the holidays, he decided he needed a major project. A friend had told me of her success with a cat tree as a way to get a recently rescued cat to spend the night quietly instead of waking them up at the wee hours (which Hamlet is fond of doing ever since he joined our household), so my husband decided he'd make a cat tree. And he did. However, Hamlet hasn't taken to the tree at all. Instead, Darwin has claimed it as his particular lion's perch.

Hamlet, on the other hand, has claimed one of Lizzy's balls as his own and he loves to take out all his frustrations against the ball, or against the edges of area rugs, or against the corners of doors. He is one weird and very vocal cat (a colleague joked that he lived up to his name by his many solliloquies).

He is a beautiful cat, nonetheless. And so is Darwin. And Magellan. And Lizzy is a cutie pie. OK, so you didn't expect me to be objective about my furry children, right?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Christmas, Melissa Etheridge style...

¡Feliz Navidad to all! Rock on!

Christmas Day

On Christmas Day, in freezing temperatures but no snow, my husband, Lizzy and I got in the car (the two of us with much more enthusiasm than she, who is not a car dog, unlike Rusty who loved any trillita in the car, even if it was just moving the car out of the garage onto the driveway). We were headed to the beautiful main trail of my small college on the hill, right next to a river, and surrounded by fields and forest. Our nearby trails were muddy by recent rains so we opted for the paved trail to give Lizzy at least one walk that day.

I brought my camera along, just in case, but the only photo we got was of this fallen sycamore. I love those trees, especially in winter when they look like the pale ghosts of the forest, and was sorry to see this one uprooted, probably by the recent windstorms.

I remember my beautiful ficus tree, the one I had had for years in a pot and which my husband planted outside our house in Puerto Rico. Although it had remained small and puny in the pot, the ficus grew into a gorgeously queen-like tree after it was planted. But then Hurricane Georges came in 1998 and uprooted it, and I wept for days. Now I have a ficus and it's safely and happy, if not majestic, in a pot. Sometimes some kinds of freedom can be overrated.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


"Fire!" yelled my father-in-law from the living room, and my husband, his mother and I rushed in from the dining area to find him shrouded in dark, acrid-smelling smoke, while the outlet behind the television spattered and sputtered as sparks flew helter skelter, raising the specter of an electric fire in their small cabin on the Eve of Christmas Eve.

Prior to that, the lights had been inexplicably flickering on and off. At one point, while I was sitting alone in the large sitting room grading papers on my laptop, the overhead light brightened to a neon-whiteness and the small, zen-like water feature that my mother-in-law keeps on a table near the comfortably over sized chairs, started sounding more like a miniature Niagara Falls. All in all, not a good sign, I thought, so I turned off and unplugged my laptop and my husband and I later began to exchange theories for why the lights were acting so strangely.

"Poltergeist!" my husband suggested, and I asked my mother-in-law whether their cabin was built atop an old indigenous grave site.

"Not that I know of, but there was a coal mine here," she ventured, adding that the lights had been flickering strangely for a few months now but the electric company hadn't deigned to come investigate and their electrician friend had said the problem was not with the cabin's wiring. "Tonight might just be the night that they finally blow out," she predicted.

Said and done. A few minutes later, as we sat at the table to enjoy some Mexican take-out from a nearby restaurant that my husband's parents patronize every time we visit, the light overheard fizzed and hissed and blew out as the refrigerator made loud groaning noises, like a sinking Titanic. That's when my father-in-law ran into the living room to find the surge protector exploding and a small fire developing behind the television.

"I'm going to turn off the electricity!" he said while I rushed my mother-in-law, who's terribly allergic to the compounds produced by anything that burns, into the other room, closing doors behind us. My husband and father-in-law got everything under control and we were able to get in touch with the electrician, who said this sounded like a surge problem with the electricity coming into the house. We called the electric company and, although the supervisor who eventually got on the phone said they likely would not come that night because they still had tens of thousands of people without lights in West Virginia due to the recent snow storm, he actually showed up near 11 p.m. and, after surveying the damage, promised a crew would be there early the next morning.

Thanks to a gasoline-powered generator my parents-in-law keep for just such occasions when there are blackouts, we were able to have heat and I slept pretty well after a rather eventful and tense evening. But my poor husband couldn't sleep and kept waking up, listening for any possible problem with the generator. But all was quiet and we left early this morning when the electric crew arrived and said the road would be closed for a while so they could cut branches and trees and clear the way for the main line into the house, which seemed to have been the culprit of all the previous night's adventures.

From West Virginia, we drove back into Ohio for our Christmas Eve tradition: lunch at Roscoe Village, a recreation of a 19th-century canal town, which is not far from my small college on the hill.

Now, safe and sound at home, while Pepper and Lizzy romp and chase each other in the yard, my husband has made a weak batch of coquito (just as I like it) to celebrate the Nochebuena (such a lovely word) with, the tiny little tree is all lit up with our presents underneath, and Christmas music plays on the radio. All is well that ends well, I'd say.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

¡Feliz aniversario, pa y ma!

Forty-nine years ago today, Juan Manuel and Ivonne del Socorro got married. They were radiantly young, had no idea what the future held, but they've forged ahead all of these years.

They've been through hell and high water but they still manage to have interesting conversations with each other. Thanks for setting the example for us in so many ways.

¡Feliz aniversario!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Lizzy and Pepper in the snow

I love the action shots my husband takes of these two.

Angels in snow

Although the forecast called for flurries in our region this morning, we're at about 2 inches of snow and still falling so this part of Ohio doesn't tire to surprise us yet again for its ability to collect the best and worst of weather sometimes all in the same week.

But there's nothing like Lizzy to put a new perspective on freshly fallen and falling snow during the first major snowstorm of the season.

Lizzy, who likes to eat ice cubes, not surprisingly also likes to attack and eat snow and loves to chase the snow balls my husband lobs at her. For Lizzy, the snowballs are no different than tennis ball, except perhaps in the fact that she can eat them without being yelled at.

All that running and romping in the snow definitely marks Lizzy as a snow dog, something Rusty and Geni definitely were not, which isn't surprising given that they were born and bred Puerto Rican satos. Lizzy, on the other hand, as a Brittany Spaniel, comes by her love for snow fair and square.

As for me, I appreciate the chance to see, and even enjoy, the snowy world through her fun-loving eyes.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The way things are these days around here

Christmas is my favorite holiday because there's always that sense that change is possible, that things can work out for the better, that faith can really move mountains.

Tonight, I took a break from my pile of pending work and instead of attending to it (nothing that anyone is waiting on, just things that must be finished and put away), I watched a hokey Christmas movie on the Hallmark channel.

During the movie, I looked beside me on the couch and called my husband over to take this picture of Lizzy and Hamlet because of how well it speaks to the spirit of the season.

Happy Birthday, Beethoven!

Can we imagine life without Beethoven? Yes, but how dull it would be.

Monday, December 14, 2009

An update on Sophia

How's this for a feel-good Christmastime story:

Sophia has been adopted! I just got a call from the vet technician who said Sophia is a darling who snuggles up to her dogs and even let her toddler nephew pick her up (or at least try to) by the neck without gauging an eye or leaving him permanently scarred. (Notice that Magellan bites hard on my husband and draws blood anytime she minds his moving around -- read: his typing on the laptop -- if she's resting on his lap!). We both knew Sophia is a very special cat and we're delighted that she has found a special home.

Don't you love happy endings? I love them, especially the ones that happen in real life because those don't come that often.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sophia's story

A few months ago, when I was walking Lizzy on a warm, early fall day, she and I came across this very friendly cat, who followed us, meowing, for almost the entire one-mile of our walk. I prayed that the cat wasn't another abandoned animal who would come home with us since we had only recently adopted Hamlet and one more animal was simply out of the question. The cat veered off into a deer trail and I didn't see her again.

A few days ago, my husband mentioned that he'd seen her (I had given my husband a detailed description of the kitty) and he conjectured that she belonged to some neighbors because she was walking down their driveway. I was very relieved to think so.

We were wrong.

Early Thursday, after a pretty impressive windstorm Wednesday night, and after the first significant snowfall of the season, I went to walk Lizzy on the trails covered by untrodden snow when we both noticed the distinct, small cat paw prints. They were the only mark on the snow in those parts that early in the morning and I began to suspect that they belonged to the same cat I had met a few months' back. This confirmed my original suspicion that someone had abandoned her to her luck because no one in their right mind would allow even their outside pets to roam in 5-above-zero windchill.

As soon as we climbed up back onto the road, there was the cat, with its tail half frozen and, again, desperate for affection and warmth. She followed us home up the road with Lizzy trying to get her to play and sitting on her, which is Lizzy's (not very successful) way of making friends with cats. I called my husband who feared Lizzy and I had run into some trouble on the snowy trails and he came out to help.

We brought her into the garage where we set out water and food. The cat, whom my husband christened Sophia (because of Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, one of the authors in my dissertation), was so hungry that she gobbled up every morsel she was given like she hadn't had a meal in days. From the garage we moved her to the basement where she would be more comfortable and Sophia proved to be most affectionate cat we've ever met (a clear sign that she had been socialized with people and other animals).

Still, we decided we'd make the effort to see if she belonged to someone around here instead of what we feared: that she'd been dumped at the trail site. My husband took the photo above and prepared a flier that we distributed throughout our road, hoping someone would call us to claim her. Nothing happened.

I decided to take her to the vet today because cats can have very dangerous diseases that are contagious to other cats, and she had been sneezing when we first got her, which could signal an upper respiratory infection or something worse. During my lunch hour, my husband put her in the cat kennel and I took her to the vet, expecting another $400 bill (like Hamlet's).

An hour later, the vet called to say that Sophia was essentially very healthy, not spayed, and only a little emaciated by her adventures on the trails. He asked whether we wanted to keep her and I assured him that we would love to give her to a good home. He said he had someone in mind and he would let me know.

Before another hour went by, one of the veterinary technicians whom we know, because she took her dog to the same obedience teacher whose class Lizzy failed, called and asked if she could keep Sophia for the weekend because she was looking for a cat just like this one, so wonderfully affectionate and easy going. If Sophia gets along with the woman's other dogs and cats, she might just have found her forever home and, ironically, only a few miles up the same road where she was so cruelly left to fend for herself.

Here's to hoping Sophia is a star kitty and earns a loving home this weekend. That's the kind of happy ending that not even Disney can beat. As for us, while there is a little sadness in seeing Sophia go because she was so friendly and cute, we will be both thrilled and very, very relieved.

At least I'm not the only one in need of some dieting...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Because my world is snow-covered this morning and it's snowing...

By Emily Dickinson

It sifts from leaden sieves,
It powders all the wood,
It fills with alabaster wool
The wrinkles of the road.

It makes an even face
Of mountain and of plain, --
Unbroken forehead from the east
Unto the east again.

It reaches to the fence,
It wraps it, rail by rail,
Till it is lost in fleeces;
It flings a crystal veil

On stump and stack and stem, --
The summer's empty room,
Acres of seams where harvests were,
Recordless, but for them.

It ruffles wrists of posts,
As ankles of a queen, --
Then stills its artisans like ghosts,
Denying they have been.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The peace and the quiet

These days I'm praying for a peaceful and quiet ending to 2009. This year could have been (and, who knows? could still be) worse than it started. But, so far, it hasn't been worse, even though it gave my husband and me enough scares and heartbreak to earn its place in the pantheon of infamous years.

Mostly, I pray that the year ends with no further disruptions to my or my loved ones' health. In the spirit of gratitude and hope, here are some recent shots of my furry children (yes, this time Lizzy didn't monopolize the camera). May their relaxed and peaceful poses (well, Lizzy looks a little worried that I'm going to kick her out of the bed) bode well for the way in which this difficult year will conclude.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The countdown begins

My husband claims that there are so many pictures of Lizzy on my blog that it's going to have to be renamed "Boricua con Lizzy." But she's so adorable that who (other than my husband) could be tired of her pictures? (If you are one of them, please don't tell me!)

Hereabouts, we've begun the final countdown for the semester's end. And while I've had some wonderful moments with students, those times that remind me of why I have made teaching my vocation, there have been other, not-so-wonderful ones, that remind me that I am not a sun strong enough to keep some planets in orbit.

Next week is the last one of the semester and I'll be teaching the poetry of Dickinson and Whitman, which is always an "1812 Overture" kind of way to end the semester, and, in my postcolonial class, we will be concluding our discussion of Beloved, which I consider the U.S.'s answer to Shakespeare's legacy.

Just like the Thanksgiving break was a God-send, the break for the holidays will be most welcome as very-much-anticipated down time for reading (preparing for next semester's classes) and watching movies and TV and maybe even revising (and dare I hope sending?) the article that I've worked on a little this semester. But, mostly, there will be lots of spending time with my husband and resting and going to the gym and doing the fun things that are much funner because they are so rarely engaged in.

I like the Christmas season and it's perhaps when all my latent Catholic inclinations surface to be buried again as soon as January speeds beyond the 6th (Three King's Day). I love the idea of welcoming a season when a savior was born to offer hope to those who had none. And I love the idea of a new year, a clean slate, and to finally bidding this horrid 2009 good bye forever.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A day in the life of Lizzy and Hamlet

This looks a lot more ferocious than it really is. Lizzy and Hamlet are pals and like to play rough -- a lot.

Walking Lizzy on the first day of hunting season

As someone who prides herself in looking "espic espan," as my grand-aunt would say in Spanish, in all of my professional endeavors, I was glad no one (except my poor husband) could see me this morning as I set off into the nearby trails with Lizzy.

It's the first day of deer gun-hunting season (sunrise to sunset) and my small college on the hill issued an e-mail alert that anyone walking its trails should wear bright clothing and stay away from areas where hunters might be shooting.

It turned out that my favorite trail abuts an area that hunters have used in the past, so we had to content ourselves with the muddy low-land areas. The bright clothing recommendation was initially a quandary since most of my cold-weather outerwear is black, but my husband recommended wearing an orange T-shirt over my parka. Problem solved.

Still, that meant that I looked like an obese female version of the Michelin Man. My husband also chuckled when, on top of that unattractive get-up, I donned my leopard-print rain boots and my black winter cap. No, I wouldn't have won any "best-dressed" awards this morning. And I surely didn't look my best, but at least I felt a little safer as Lizzy and I embarked on our walk with the faraway shots exploding through the cold morning air.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Out on a walk before sunset

This view reminds me that there is magic all around us, if we only bother to look.

One of my favorite winter sights are the planes cutting a white line on a winter-blue sky.

My husband ran ahead of Lizzy to get this great shot. She's very focused when she's on the prowl.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Who knew?

Today we went to my husband's best friend's house for a second Thanksgiving feast that couldn't be beat (we went to another friend's house on Thursday). We've been to my husband's friend's place several times but I never knew the fascinating history of what is now an upscale suburban community.

That was until we drove by Africa Road and I said something like "That's unusual...," thinking of the predominantly white and obviously well-to-do community around us. That's when my husband drove us to this sign, that he'd espied here during one of his visits to his friend.

Someday, I'll write a novel about this buried history, I thought.

First snow

Thursday, November 26, 2009

To be grateful

The concept of Thanksgiving Day may be hokey and may promote an outright lie (that the Puritan pilgrims were inordinately generous with the indigenous peoples they found -- for the true story, read Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick). But I love the idea of devoting a day to being grateful. There is a special humility in thankfulness that is worth cultivating. (Of course, I also don't mind all the turkey and the mashed potatoes and the cranberry sauce and the stuffing and the pumpkin pie...)

This year, I miss my abuela who, when she would no longer leave her house to celebrate the day with us, always expected us to bring her some dark turkey meat with all the trimmings. I will miss my family, all of whose members are scattered far and wide, and I will miss cooking up a storm with my sister, as we did the first year my husband and I had arrived in Ohio. During that Thanksgiving, my nieces and nephew played outside in the mountains of dry leaves in 73-degree weather and then they sang for us after dinner. It was unforgettable. (That was also the Thanksgiving that I caught pneumonia and had to send my sister and the kids back to Maryland for fear they would catch it!).

This Thanksgiving my new house will be quiet and empty, there will be no delicious smells coming from my oven or stove nor will there be boisterous nieces and nephews running around the house, chasing the cats and being chased by Lizzy. Instead, we will go to the home of friends and appreciate their generosity in including us into their family for this day.

This Thanksgiving I am grateful for it all, the good and the bad, the easy and the difficult, the happy and the sad. Without shadow, the light wouldn't seem as bright.

This Thanksgiving I am fully grateful for the life I am privileged to live. I'm especially thankful for my parents, my siblings and their luminous families, the good friends I have had for many years and those who are newer in my life, and for my furry children. I am also grateful for my beloved profession, for my students, for my colleagues, for the place where I live and work.

Especially, I give thanks for the man, who, more than 15 years ago, decided to cast his fortune with mine and who has kept his vows, through thick and very, very thin, and with whom I still can laugh and be unreservedly myself, which is mostly a good thing but sometimes not so much. A man whom I admire and respect and love even more deeply than when we first got married.

Ultimately, I am grateful for all the love there is in my life. For the love I receive and the love I am able to give. This is a true privilege and a blessing and I am humbly thankful for it all.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Days for cats and dogs

These are days for cats and dogs in this house. I'm on break and feel my time stretching like a cat instead of constricting like a boa, as it seems to do during work days, and the whole family appreciates the more relaxed atmosphere. Unlike on work days, I'm not impatient or annoyed or racing to get somewhere. Of course, I'm grateful to have a job I love but I'm also immensely thankful (and at the appropriate time, too!) that I get a respite from its intensity.

That more relaxed schedule has been very evident for the past two days. A trip yesterday to my stylist for a long-needed and postponed haircut and then on to the mall for lunch and some shopping at my favorite store, Talbot's (including not one, but two stops at Starbucks!). And a trip to the university district for lunch and a movie today. Tonight, I re-watched several episodes of Little Dorrit and I'm tempted to get out my Pride and Prejudice tapes from the hall closet and re-watch them for the twentieth? hundredth? time.

Since Friday's start of the break, Lizzy and Hamlet have been enjoying more attention and when they managed to sit next to each other as I finished my Little Dorrit session I called my husband to take the sibling portrait above. Hamlet was leaning against a cushion cover my sister-in-law gave us a long time ago, which has a black cat pictured on it, and it's hard to tell where Hamlet ends and the cushion cat begins. Curious Lizzy had to get her nose into the lens and made us laugh when we saw the picture. It's so Lizzyesque.

Meanwhile, my determination for this Thanksgiving break is to make the most of it and enjoy the kinds of things I don't get to do during the semester. That includes reading a new novel, Wolf Hall, which is in no way related to my scholarship or my teaching (full disclosure: I'm also reading The Haunting of Hill House for my class next semester), and watching HBO movies (yesterday I caught the Keanu Reeves re-make of The Day the Earth Stood Still, which probably ranks as the worst movie I've ever seen even when I didn't see the whole thing). I've also watched Bride Wars and parts of Marley and Me, movies that you couldn't have dragged me to the theater to watch but that are fine when there is nothing else pressing to be done. Or, let me be more accurate: there are things to get done but they're not due tomorrow or the next day or the next.

I am so grateful for having this gift of time to recoup and recalibrate and recenter and I will do this time justice. In fact, my plan is to juice this time until it's given up its very last drop. Tomorrow morning: To the gym I go!

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Lizzy kind of day

Today was Lizzy's kind of day. She got a long walk in the morning and then our friends let us borrow their black lab mix, Pepper, for an extended play date. Watching the two dogs spend time together is a lesson in friendship.

Of course, ending up all slobbered on and dirty, the way Lizzy finishes the play date, isn't ideal, but the two love to spend time together and they make the most of it. I especially love watching my husband join in the fun and throw a ball or two so the dogs go wild with joy (and chase each other endlessly).

Today was definitely a dog's day, in the best sense of the phrase.