Wednesday, January 28, 2009

After the storm

Geni's face, as captured by my husband, says it all.

That's all there is to look at around here: snow covered with ice, covered with snow, and a little more ice on top for good measure.

The biggest snow storm of the season didn't strike overnight, as first forecast, but the snow started falling fat and heavy after dawn (around 8 a.m.) through most of the afternoon. Still, my small college on the hill rallied on and didn't shut down, even though every other college nearby did (including the humongous university to our south).

Because of the awful weather, I didn't hold my early morning class, having advised my students last night to stay alert for an e-mail from me. When I woke up before 7 a.m., the skies were dumping sleety, icy rain all over. I wasn't going to risk either my health, by going out in the chilly wetness while I'm still battling a cold, or my well being (or my car's), by trying to negotiate sleet-covered roads. Later in the morning, my husband drove me into the small college on the hill so that I could hold my regular office hours and my afternoon class. Hopefully, this will be it for bad weather.

When we returned home late this afternoon, I noticed how the icy snow had perfectly captured, like footsteps on freshly laid pavement, the progress of one of the many birds that come to find sustenance at our feeders. The cute, tiny bird prints in the icy snow brought a little cheer to the end of an otherwise dreary, cold and snow-filled day.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Squirrel Days

January never fails to earn its place as my least favorite month of the year in Ohio. It is severely, unremittingly cold, and eternally white or gray. By noon tomorrow, another storm is expected to dump up to a foot of snow, so this January is going out like a lion, not a lamb.

And then comes February, which is really just January all dressed up in lamb's clothing, so I'm not a very happy camper, especially because this is also the time of year that I get the pesky colds that make their rounds among those of us who live near our small college on the hill.

This kind of weather also makes everyone outside (and inside!) hungry and restless. That means that the squirrels are at their best in terms of their canny attempts to get seed out of the bird feeders, which are not intended for them. And they've gotten so good at it, I must say, that I'm about to buy a pricey squirrel-proof bird feeder just to try to at least thwart them as best I can.

Geni, for her part, simply adores chasing the squirrels (she just chased 8 or 9 of them away from the feeders in the back of our apartment). She races them all the way to the foot of the tree they all scramble up on, and then she saunters back, quite pleased with herself and expecting her biscuit reward for being such a good squirrel dog even when she's overweight, ancient, diabetic, has Cushing's Disease, and is a cancer survivor. "The Miracle Dog," that's how the vet calls her.

Here's today's record of one squirrel's foray into the feeder, as captured by my husband a few minutes ago.

First, the thief ensures that there are no witnesses to her crime.

Then, she steals the booty, eating it upside down (which must do wonders for her digestion, I'm sure!). Finally, she makes her escape, back whence she came.

You've got to give it to them. They're brilliant! Just now my husband said that the red feeder was knocked down by the squirrel and is on the ground. If at first you don't succeed...

When, oh when, will winter end?

Saturday, January 24, 2009


In our household, no one has more of a carefree attitude toward life than Darwin. Not even Geni, who is a blissful soul.

Darwin lives each and every moment to the maximum, be it eating or sleeping or playing or looking for Trouble, which, as you know, is his middle name.

I'm a pretty hopeful person (a trait that often either gets me in trouble or leads me straight to disappointment), and while I'm mostly of a cheery disposition, my husband tends toward the "Droopy" side, as my mami says. I joke that he's more of a "gloom and doom" guy, so we balance each other well.

For her part, Magellan is always looking for a reason to complain. If my husband isn't ready to have her on his lap, she complains. If he moves too much while she's on his lap, she'll bite him to register her complaint. If I don't "water" her fast enough, she complains. If the litter isn't clean to her specifications, she complains. If I don't feed her quickly enough, she complains. You get the drift. You'd think Magellan was born into pampered royalty and not under an industrial air conditioning unit, abandoned by her mother.

Darwin is something else entirely. Everything makes Darwin happy. His food, his toys, the sofa, the bed, the stuffed toys that he regularly molests, the closet, the freshly laundered and folded sheets and towels awaiting their trip into the linen closet. My husband, abetting Darwin's penchant for entertainment, doesn't just give him his treats, but instead plays "kill the treat" and the cat milks every moment of it. He bats the treats around like they were live prey he was toying with, and only when he's satisfied that he's triumphed over the treat, does he finally eat it.

Because he knows Dr. S is terribly allergic to cats, Darwin always gravitates toward her, her coat, her possessions, anything of hers that's in our house at any particular moment. When she visits, we have to hide all of them in a closet so Darwin is thwarted in his purpose of leaving his smell, his hair, his dander, anything of his that he can get onto her stuff.

Pain-in-the-ass that he is, however, Dr. S obliges him by enthusiastically playing with him, for which Darwin is eternally grateful since he doesn't get as much attention in that department from us as he'd like. After Dr. S is gone, he walks around the house yowling in despair because his best buddy has left him behind.

The photo above shows one of Darwin's favorite poses: looking smug and satisfied, lying right on top of me, claiming me as his own. It's true what they say about cats. We think we own them, but they know, and they make a point to show us, that (in truth) they are the ones that own us.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Hell has frozen over

That's been the consensus around here, where temperatures have dipped below zero for a few days now, and the windchill has hit -20 and lower. Right now, the temperature on my desktop says it's -10 and our windows (inefficient, single-pane ones) are frosted over with ice.

Needless to say, these are days to stay inside and not even Geni misses her walks (though she's never been as much of a walk enthusiast as Rusty used to be). She's content with being let out the door to do her business and rushing back in when she's finished. She would much, much rather stay in the comfy bed and snuggle up to the fleece blanket her fairy godmother titi D gave her sometime ago.

It feels like we're living in an Arctic tundra. The freezing wind hurts when it lashes against any exposed part of your skin and even my trusty little car, which has up until now started every God-forsakenly-cold morning, groans like its steering column has been frozen in place.

Almost six inches of snow were followed by this Arctic Blast, and by mid-week we could be welcoming 30-degree weather as positively summery.

In this weather, we've completed the first week of being back to at my small college on the hill, and I feel pretty good about it how this semester has started. I have three strong groups of students, and at least the first week of classes went well for both them and me. I am trying hard to become a better teacher because while I know I'm pretty good at getting them to love a text (or at least analyzing the text) almost as much as I do, I can still do a lot more in teaching them how to become better writers. I'm trying a new approach this semester, so we'll see how it goes.

I also completed the first week of teaching three classes, and the juggling of it all went more smoothly and less stressfully than I thought, so that's a good thing. And I think I might just manage to manage my time in a way that allows me not only to stay on top of my classes, but also to do my research and to maybe even read something for fun on the side, just for pleasure. On that note, I started A Mercy by Toni Morrison after I heard her give a reading of the book on NPR's Book Notes. My reading of the novel is slow going, but it's going.

On an even more hopeful note, I bought our plane tickets for Puerto Rico, where my husband and I will be going in March for a week. I'm really looking forward to my island's warmth, to spending time with my parents, and to despejarme de todo in 90-degree weather.

In the meantime, there is a certain heartbreaking beauty to our frozen landscapes. And especially when one is surrounded by this muted whiteness, the blood red of the Cardinals pleasantly surprises.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


If you look closely, like my husband does with his good camera, winter does put on quite the show in these parts.

Geni, however, doesn't appreciate it much.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The icy days of January

The snowy, icy cold days of January are hard on almost everyone. Everything is iced over, like an iced sugar doughnut, but not as fun, since the ice turns every surface into a dangerous and inadvertent ice rink. These are the perfect days to stay inside, warm and dry, and to avoid driving anywhere, if at all possible.

Magellan stays mostly under the guest room bed, as close to the baseboard heater as possible, and the few times she deigns to come out, the part of her body that has pressed against the heater is warm to the touch. Darwin, bored and cabin fevered, prowls the apartment, looking for something to do, which usually involves Trouble (his middle name).

Thankfully, at least during most of the day, they each enjoy their favorite reality show by watching the birds flit in and out of the feeders, and the countless squirrels sit on the window ledge outside, munching on their corn and peanuts and pumpkin seeds.

Even Geni tries to persuade us to leave her inside and not drag her into the cold and the ice-crusted snow, and she does everything in her power to thwart my new project of placing red booties on her, so she doesn't have to suffer from the salt on the roads and sidewalks, and the painful pebbles of ice that tend to form under her not-made-for-snow paws.

She obviously doesn't comprehend the purpose of the (very stylish, I think) booties, and dislikes the feel of them on her legs. And once we are outside, I think she does her best to continually shake them off (I'm still not sure if the booties are just too small for her feet!) so we have to stop and I have to put them back on, repeatedly.

My husband doesn't agree with my project and thinks we should just let her walk unfettered by the booties, but I'm persuaded that she will gradually come to understand that it's in her best interest to protect her paws rather than to feel the ice and the cold on them. I guess I have my work cut out for me.

The end of the weekend marks the end of my break since the spring semester (right, what a joke!) begins on Monday. The syllabus are ready and photocopied, and I have nearly finished the first-day lesson plans for the 3 classes I'll be teaching. Today, I've also written a conference proposal and sent it to a friend for comment, and tomorrow I will put the finishing touches on an article I plan to send to a journal to see if they'll publish it. Monday will be class-plan-finalizing day and Tuesday is go-to-Columbus-day so I can get my hair done in anticipation of being back in the classroom, starting Wednesday.

I'm glad the fall semester is behind me, and while I learned a lot about being more organized and making sure I'm not overwhelmed with work, I'm not sure how I'll manage teaching 3 classes. But all my colleagues do, at one time or another, so I'm sure I'll get into the groove of it, too, eventually. I have 2 brand-new classes to teach this semester (what was I thinking?!), so that'll be a challenge, but I've planned those classes as well as I can so, hopefully, they will work out.

Last semester, my evaluations for both classes were pretty terrific, which was a relief given that they're the first ones in my tenure-track career, and that my U.S. literature class (which spanned more than 4 centuries of writings) was brand-new as well, and I made many changes to the syllabus throughout the semester. But students didn't complain about that and, instead, most said they'd "learned a lot" and that the class was "very challenging." Students in my postcolonial class also made similar comments, so I can't ask for more.

When I go back to teaching next Wednesday, the early forecast is for a low of 3 degrees in the morning. The air itself will feel frozen as I leave the apartment to go teach my morning, first-year, writing-intensive class, and the high for the day isn't expected to break the low 20s when I'm teaching my afternoon Latin@ literature class. Things will be pretty much the same, if not colder, on Thursday, when I start my very first senior seminar, which is on Hawthorne.

All anyone can do now, from the wildlife, to the cats, to Geni and to every one of us, is look forward to January ending quickly, although February (albeit shorter) isn't much better. At least March is now only 2 months away, or so. That's something to look forward to, indeed.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

¡Feliz Día de Reyes!

Today is Three Kings Day, or the Day of the Epiphany, for Catholics (even for lapsed Catholics, like me). This day is a very special one in Puerto Rico, and my husband and I keep up the tradition by not taking down our Christmas decorations until tomorrow and by exchanging small gifts every January 6.

This day is also special in my memory because, as a child, we would visit my grandparents on La Víspera de Reyes, or Three Kings Eve, and I loved how my abuelo would point to the sky, to Orion's belt, and tell me how those were the Three Kings, on their way to Earth. Back then, we would gather yerba from my grandparents' yard and place our filled shoe boxes on the living room floor, in expectation that the Three Kings would leave us presents the next day.

On Three Kings Day, I vividly remember carefully inspecting the floor of my grandparents' porch, looking for any evidence of horses' hooves, and trying to figure out in my mind how the three horses would've marched into the porch and not wrecked my grandmother's perfectly appointed sitting area. When I remember it now, I don't know why I never figured that the three kings could, of course, leave their horses outside and then walk without the horses through the porch and into the house!

Those days are long, long gone. And my husband and I don't have any children to make wide-eyed with the stories of beautiful horses, with sparkling stirrups and bridles, those magical stallions that could travel through the sky and enter my grandparents' humble porch without destroying it.

But even without children to appreciate it, my husband and I still like to celebrate the holiday so tonight we will have some friends over for French butter cake and cherry pie (not very Puerto Rican, I know). And this morning we opened our nicely wrapped presents, which we placed under the tropical mata that I decorated for Christmas: my husband's large and mysterious box and mine looking obviously like a book.

My husband said he'd made my present and I had absolutely no idea what it could be. When I ripped the wrapping paper off and opened the huge box I was both moved and delighted to find a small wooden stool, cut in the shape of Puerto Rico, mi patria querida. The stool is perfect, more so because my husband made it (proving himself quite the artesano), and because he made it thinking of something that would be both useful (it will help me reach books that are high on my office bookshelves) and beautiful.

As a child, after we'd visited my grandparents' house and collected our Three Kings' loot from there, we would return home to our own presents, which mostly consisted of books and new clothes for the new school year. I always preferred Three Kings Day to Christmas Day because, although on Christmas Day I would get the Barbie shoes and dresses that I loved to play with, it was on Three Kings Day that I got the books that opened the world to me and made me appreciate reading literature, thereby etching the beginnings of my professional future.

Here, in the middle of nowhere in Ohio, Orion's belt is very clear and shines crisply on the dark, cold sky, taking me back to my childhood years, better than any time machine could. Tonight, if the wintry weather allows us to walk Geni, and if the sky is cloudless, I will point to the sky, to where Orion's belt is, and I will say to my husband: "See, there go the Three Kings, on their way back to where they came from." And for a second, during the time it takes to take a few breaths, I will believe again and I will be charmed.

Friday, January 2, 2009

So far, so good

A colleague friend, who stopped by today to greet us in the New Year, told us that whatever you were doing on New Year's Eve is what you'll be doing during the new year. Not that I believe that for a minute, but if it there is any kernel of truth to it, this year would bode very well for us.

That's because, very much like this squirrel at our bird feeder this morning, my husband and I spent New Year's Eve eating to our heart's content at the nearby house of good friends. There was only a handful of us, just the way I prefer it. The company was great, the food was delicious, and even the champagne (I'm not a fan) was perfect. If that's what most of 2009 is going to feel like, I welcome it with open arms.

And I have to say that, so far, 2009 has started nicely. I spent the 1st day of the year at the mall in the company of a former student who has come to be like the teenage daughter I will never have (well, she's 20 now). We had coffee at Starbucks; shopped at Talbot's for the present I'm giving Dr. S; had lunch at my favorite place: Chick-Fil-A; saw a great movie (Doubt is one of the smartest films I've ever seen, don't miss it!); went into Brookstone to examine a head lamp my former student would like to get (?); stopped by Williams-Sonoma to get a large bowl for future pie-making (one of my favorite bowls recently cracked) and I splurged on some very expensive cherries so I can make my husband's favorite pie; and then we headed back home.

Although I've spent most of today doing class prep it hasn't felt too much like work because I've been reading the latest biography on Hawthorne, the author who I will be devoting one of my classes to this coming semester. The biography is a great read (Hawthorne: A Life by Brenda Wineapple) and I've almost finished it. I've discovered how much I like biographies (well-written ones, of course) so that's been a pleasant surprise.

Thus, the 2nd day of the year was spent mostly reading and watching a little TV and doing house chores and walking Geni and fixing dinner and having a mostly quiet, relaxed day. I have to say that, so far (and, surely, the odds are that this won't last since each year must bring good and bad) I'm really enjoying 2009!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

As I look back on it, over the past 30 years, the years that have ended in 8 have brought huge transitions to my life.

In fall of 1978 I walked across the ivy-covered gates of Harvard Yard into what turned out to be an experience that marked me forever. A decade later, at the start of 1988, I found myself having to drop out of my second year of law school because of a severe bout of Crohn's Disease, an illness that nearly killed me, and also defined my life forever.

Last year, was another maelstrom-like transition year for me, and for my husband. I went from being a graduate student to being a tenure-track professor, from dreaming about completing my Monster to actually completing it, from our beautiful house in the tiny city to a tiny apartment at my small college on the hill, to count only a few of the bridges that we crossed.

This was also a year when many things crashed: the financial system, the banks, the automakers, and my husband's cushy world-trotting motorcycle-riding and writing job. But, as my husband says, every tree that falls in the forest becomes shelter and fertilizer for new life. Likewise, the end of that job meant the beginning of what he had been wanting to do again ever since we left Puerto Rico in 2001: freelance. Thankfully, he's done well on his own and has been a happier person for it.

Like paw prints in the snow, years leave the imprints of their significance in us, long after they are but a shady memory. That is also the case with those who leave us, but who will be forever present in our hearts.

Last year, my nearly 98-year-old grandmother passed away. I missed not being able to call her this Christmas and last night to talk to her. I will sorely miss her when we visit Puerto Rico later in this new year because I won't have to stop by her house each and every day to spend a little time with her. While having to do that might have sometimes felt like a chore, it was something I was happy to do to reciprocate a little of the immeasurable love she always gave me.

Last year, I also lost Rusty, and I still miss him terribly. Today it's a month since he left us and not a day or a moment elapses that I don't wish him back with me, that I don't wish there was a way I could've stopped time when he was still younger and vital, and my seemingly eternal and faithful companion.

I know must of us are not sorry to see 2008 go, and I wonder what 2009 will bring. There's always a degree of anxiety in not knowing what the clean slate of a year hides beneath it's blank pages.

One of the lessons I learned last year (the words make it seem like it was so long ago that it ended), is the value of perseverance, of hanging on longer than others (like in getting a Ph.D.), or in pursuing one's dreams as if tomorrow would never come.

While I am glad that 2008 is over, there is much that I am thankful to it for. But, unlike for 2008, my plans for 2009 are not terribly ambitious.

I hope to get to the gym more often and be organized and disciplined enough to get to read more for pleasure. I also hope to see more movies and maybe travel a little more with my husband now that Rusty (The Doggy Kennel Reject) isn't here to prevent us from going away (since no one else could care for him) and Geni will do alright at the kennel.

My hope is that 2009 is the very opposite of 2008: a quiet, stable year when we can reap the good things we have sowed. May all of you have a great 2009, too!

(All the photos are courtesy of my husband, who walked almost 8 miles around our small college on the hill earlier this week in search of good year-end photos for my blog!)