Saturday, April 25, 2009

Skipping right into summer?

In true Ohio fashion, we've skipped spring and gone directly into summer even though the low temperature was 38 degrees only two days ago. Today, it's a wonderfully, tropically balmy 84 degrees.

It's the perfect day to hang out the laundry, especially the towels and the bed sheets, as I love to do, open every single window and both doors so the closed-too-long apartment gets fully aired out, and play Latino pop music in the background as I happily fold and store away the heavy winter clothes, at the same time that I dig out my summer shirts and skirts.

My goal today is to stay away from the piles of pending school work, especially since we have a dinner this evening that is school related and for which I'll be cooking two of the main dishes: black beans with a hint of coconut milk and pollo sudado, or chicken dark meat that sweats itself into done along with onions and potatoes in a crock pot.

What's missing in this photo? My husband and I, spending time together, looking at the nearby and rapidly greening forest, alive with hundreds of bird and squirrel calls, as we chat about this or that. The chairs are also great for reading, and I still have lying around, waiting for me, a recently released detective novel that has absolutely nothing to do with what I teach or research.

The chairs beckon powerfully, so maybe a little later today I'll heed their call and sit for a little while, even if by myself (my husband is taking a much-anticipated motorcycle day), before dinner time requires renewed attendance to school duties.

Although by this semester's end school duty has begun to feel like it will never, ever end, this particular dinner is something to look forward to. It's hosted by Geni's loving godparents, who are not only some of the nicest people ever but also two of the best cooks I've met.

A warm and sunny day, not much school work that will get done, memories of winter pushed into storage, and the expectation of good company and food, are all ingredients that give me a small, and tangy, taste of the summer to come.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Of haunted houses on bright sunny days

There is sun and it's a Saturday so the thing to do is clear: hop on the motorcycle and go where the road will take us in search of new sights and memories.

This time, my husband went on a known road, but to a part of it I'd never been to before, and we suddenly found ourselves right in the middle of Amish country, but still very much in our own county.

You can tell the Amish farms, not only because they are pristinely white in their cleanliness and tidiness, but also because of the black horse buggies with their large reflective orange triangles affixed on the back.

In our travels, we saw an Amish farmer, clad in his typical garb of blues and browns, with his rather stylish straw hat, driving a team of beautiful horses, tilling the ground for early planting. We also saw Amish women, plowing their house gardens, while the men tended to the buggies and the horses. Some of the women stopped and looked as the motorcycle whizzed by, some of them just kept on working, impervious to the busy road noises.

We saw several horse farms and, in one, we saw a mare with her recently born foal, and at another, we saw a cow with her recently born calf. Both were adorable and a true sign that we've finally reached Spring, but there was nowhere to stop to take a picture so you'll have to use your imagination.

We didn't have to use our minds to imagine this haunted house, the most haunted I've ever seen on a contradictorily bright, sunny day, sitting there on the side of the road, complete with a scythe-shaped, broken and dying pine tree on one side, cackling black birds swirling atop its incongruously new roof, dead trees flanking its entryway, and the shadow of a ghostly figure seen passing through one of its opened windows.

The house must have been quite a showcase in its heyday but now stands clearly abandoned, beckoning unsuspecting ghost hunters to vanish into its secrets, like in a Stephen King story.

What would lead someone to abandon such a regal house, I wondered? The evil inside must be so abominable, so unspeakable, that the house stands alone, if defiant, against the beating of weather and the ravages of time, holding onto the murmuring sorrows of its erstwhile grand past, like an immense tomb.

We left quickly and once back home, we found a much more innocent and happy picture awaiting us. That was Magellan, Puerto Rican cat that she is, enjoying the rays of sun that peek through our kitchen window and make a small spot where she can sunbathe.

Friday, April 17, 2009


This is what my husband, Geni and I did for a short while yesterday afternoon when he and I sat on the lawn chairs we set out on the back of our small apartment in the woods, and Geni lay down on her favorite type of rug: green grass, as she squinted against the still bright sunlight.

We didn't stay long outside, though, since the cool of the spring evening soon got too chilly for all of us, and we decided to seek the warmth and comfort of the inside of our home.

Today has been another brightly sunny and warmish day, one of those days in Ohio that almost makes up for its dismal winter and early spring weather, and tomorrow is expected to be another knockout. Not a minute too soon, I say.

At my small college on the hill we only have 2 weeks to go for this semester to be over and nearly everyone, students, staff, and faculty alike, is looking forward to finishing. Well, some of my seniors have said they aren't as keen on leaving and starting their brand new lives, but that's unavoidable.

I won't miss this semester much, even when I've had great students in each of my classes, and they've been so much fun to teach. As I've mentioned often here this year, the pace of the semester has been simply overwhelming and it just seems to get exponentially worse, not any better, as we careen wildly to its conclusion.

This semester I've realized that it's imperative for me to protect the very little time I have to myself especially because at my small college on the hill I could fill up every moment of my day with some work-related event or task or conversation or meeting, and this would be quite natural, maybe even expected.

Many years ago, when I was a journalist, my job was my life, and there were so many days when, though I was ill, my passion for being a reporter and later an editor gave me the verve to face the day despite the unspeakable obstacles I had to deal with on a daily basis. Those days are long and, thankfully, gone.

At this much later stage of my life, what I do for a living, however significant and beloved and intrinsic, is not all I am. So I will welcome the end of this school year because for the first time since I started (and even since I finished) graduate school I will be able to experience a few months when I will not be almost completely consumed by what I do.

For now, before we go out to dinner with friends, and later attend a play directed by one of my students, I will sit for a while out there in the waning sunlight, with my husband and Geni, welcoming the quietude and the much needed halt in all I've done and all I've been this week at my small college on the hill.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Small resurrections

Easter has always been one of my favorite holidays, especially because I'm big on the idea of resurrection.

As a child, I remember Holy Week as a very quiet time when the world seemed to come to a complete halt, there was no school, no work, no play, no making noises, no laughing out loud. I remember spending the time at my grand-aunt's apartment (my parents must have been traveling), watching movies on TV about Jesus' life. I still remember films that wouldn't show the face of the actor playing Jesus because it was disrespectful! They must all have been Mexican movies, because they were in Spanish. And I loved them all.

Little did I imagine that in 2002 I would have my own personal mini-passion play. It was on a Holy Week seven years ago that I had the surgery that saved my life and made this, my latest and most blessed incarnation, possible.

Because so much has happened since the end of 2008, when my abuelita died, and Rusty left us to run with the wolves in the hereafter, and so much has been piled on top of that in the beginning of 2009, when we all thought my papi would not last long, I wanted to mark this Easter by going to church, something I don't do that often (I'm quite the lapsed Catholic).

So, yesterday, while I was driving back from the big city, after getting my haircut and doing some damage to my credit card by purchasing a pretty print dress for Commencement, I decided I'd like to observe Easter communally, as most Christians do, rather than all by myself (my husband having gone to spend the weekend with his parents).

I toyed with the idea of going to the Catholic church in the nearby town but the thought of being in a group of strangers didn't appeal to me much. I wanted the feel of family, the way Easter should be. After considering several options, it occurred to me that a colleague-friend had said she was going to her Protestant church with her husband and child, so I called her to ask whether she would be willing to take me in as a sort of religious orphan. She was delighted, and mentioned that another colleague-friend, who's a Baptist, might be interested, too.

Early this morning I decked myself up in a chartreuse green suit that I haven't worn in ages, my canary-yellow patent leather pumps, and I picked up our friend on the way to a United Church of Christ ceremony, the three of us from different religious backgrounds but all united today in our desire to celebrate Easter together.

After the ceremony, which was lovely (even though I missed the mystery of the Catholic rituals), we all went for Easter breakfast at a local eatery and pigged out. It was a very nice Easter. The nicest in recent memory. And I think it was because we all came together, like a makeshift family away from real family, like only people whose families are very far away can. Isn't that part of the spirit of Easter after all?

¡Felices Pascuas!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Last snow?

For me, there are few weather events in early spring harder to contend with in terms of morale than the last snow.

Last night, we had to enter my beautiful hanging basket of violas (albeit a little less spectacular now since being munched on by deer after being left overnight on an outside table) because the temperature dropped to the low 20s. Today, my husband brought in the two trays of pansies and put them in his closet (away from salad-bar-loving Darwin and pansy-addicted Magellan) because they had drooped markedly overnight. That was after I covered each of them with a pillow case as protection from the frost, but they were just not doing well in the 30-degree, sun-less weather outside.

Today, it's been flurrying and outright snowing, on and off, the skies have been gray and dismal-looking, and the little bit of color that you can find anywhere is fighting for dear life, like the spring flowers near our apartment that hunkered down against the snow.

Yesterday, I was briefly interviewed for the college faculty newsletter and the interviewer, an erstwhile reporter for the major newspaper in the big city, asked me what was the main difference between San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Gambier, Ohio. I had to laugh out loud at the contrast that came to my mind with his question, and I immediately answered: "Color." And I meant that in more ways than one.

I've noted before how my mother-in-law once told me, when I was still a newbie in Ohio and all bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed with possibility, that I would eventually find its winters almost unbearably gray. She herself suffers from light deprivation and must actively counteract its effects during the long, dreary months of winter and early spring. Back then, I dismissed her words, younger and foolisher as I was, sure that I certainly would not find Ohio as objectionable as she did over something as silly as the weather.

But among the major lessons the Greeks taught us was that hubris is not a good thing to have, and that the Fates will make sure it is repaid in humbleness. I have been duly humbled again and again each of the eight years we've been in Ohio, and am now among those who bemoan these last days of colorless cold that linger on before spring is fully with us.

I even started wondering what it would be like to live and work in California until my husband reminded me of how far we'd be from Puerto Rico, and how that has been the reason why we've never considered the West Coast as a possibility, even when it would've been easier for my husband to get a job at one of the many motorcycle magazines published there.

While California is not an option at this time, I have had to come to terms with several facts. One of them is that I am almost 50 (I'll be 48 in October), and that aging does bring important changes that required adaptation. I've discovered, for one, that I need a lot more sleep nowadays than I did even a few years ago, and if I get to bed after 11 and get up at 7 (when I must to give Geni her insulin shot), I'm tired and cranky for the entire day.

That means that I must make sure I get to bed at a time that allows me to function productively and happily, something that has turned out to be much more difficult than I thought in a place where there is something to do or attend to practically every minute of the day and night.

The other fact is that I find the often-unremittingly ugly weather in Ohio to be hard to bear, and that I'll have to ponder the effects of that on my psyche in years to come, as I grow older and more needy of color. Today, a much younger friend and colleague, in a conversation with students over lunch, explained how, in re-reading Beloved while now living through Ohio winters, she has finally understood Baby Suggs' hunger for color.

On my part, I do so hope that this was the last snow of the season, as my husband titled these photos that he took today. Like Beloved, my Caribbean soul clamors, if not for a kiss, then most definitely for color.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Big day for papi and abuelo!

Today was a huge day for my papi and my abuelo, and my husband and I were both sorry that we couldn't be there to share the big moment.

My papi, who's recovered well from his surgery of a few months back, got all dolled up (donning his characteristic bow tie and new herringbone jacket) and read a paper about his father's, don Manuel García Díaz's, work on one of the most important Puerto Rican authors of the nineteenth century, Alejandro Tapia y Rivera (poet, essayist, playwright, and novelist).

The photo, courtesy of my mami, captures the moment when papi read his ponencia, celebrating the work of my abuelo, who, as my father has told me, was the first Puerto Rican to do his doctoral work on a Puerto Rican author, Tapia y Rivera, at the University of Puerto Rico Department of Spanish in the early 20th century.

My abuelo's groundbreaking work on Tapia y Rivera was being recognized today at the Puerto Rican Atheneum, where morning and afternoon panels discussed Tapia y Rivera's work and significance.

A month or so ago, when I was in Puerto Rico helping my parents, during and after my dad's stay in the hospital, my mami and I met up with the organizer of the event, the author Roberto Ramos Perea (seated left in the photo), who told us that the Atheneum wanted my papi to read his paper on abuelo. My mami and I were very pleased, and knew my dad would be, too, yet we couldn't imagine that he would be able to be there. But even the wildest dreams do come true!

Though I wasn't there to cheer on my papi at what he does best: enlighten us with his visionary scholarship, and while I missed this important recognition of my abuelo, a man whom I loved dearly and who spoiled me for all the years he was a part of my life, the joy and the pride and the magic of that moment have all traveled through ocean and time and mountains and have reached me, right here, in the middle of my beaming heart.