Friday, June 26, 2009

Twirling squirrels and cats in bags

There is something playful and laid back about this summer, an attitude that even the squirrels around here appear to share, especially one young, smallish squirrel, which I've seen doing twirls and flip backs for no apparent reason while trying to play with a stick.

It's not unusual to count seven or more squirrels on the front yard of our small apartment near the woods, including the three in this picture (the one at center, the one running away at the top and the one almost out of the frame on the right). Most of them scamper when I come outside, but a few sit and wait, especially if I'm about to put out the wildlife mix they love, because it has the whole peanuts they enjoy shelling.

Since my return last week, there's already been two birthdays to celebrate (one with ice cream and one with a surprise cake), meetings, lunches and dinners, new people to meet and greet, and even an "adopted" dog to walk. So, life at my small college on the hill takes on its own summer pace, one that is much more relaxed and mellow than the school year's, but very much still its own quirky self.

Even Magellan acts more playful, claiming as her own the Williams-Sonoma shopping bag that recently carried home some new goodies: a wood cutting board for summer vegetables; fancy cherries in a jar that will fill an upcoming pie for my husband; a pastry blender with a thumb rest; and, the best Mexican vanilla I've found.

I don't visit Williams-Sonoma very often since it's usually priced beyond my means, but the occasional splurge brings joy not only to my little kitchen but to Magellan (Darwin can't figure out all the fuzz about the big shopping bag).

Someone recently noted that summer is almost half over, and I told them that, for me, summer has only now started. It used to be that fall was my favorite season, but now that summer is the season when I'm mistress of my own time, I've quite changed my mind.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The longest day of the year

On the longest day of the year, after I bemoaned not having Geni to walk anymore, my husband persuaded me to take a short ride on the motorcycle to a nearby path, next to the river, so we could take a short walk in the nice afternoon.

The path was lovely, the weather perfect, and it gave both of us a feel for the glory and promise of summer, especially these long, warm, sunny days that bring with them this cherished privilege of leisure.

The tiny mushrooms growing on a fallen tree trunk looked like fairies poised to take flight, while a really old, gnarled and twisted tree, spoke of its indomitable will to live.

A miniature white butterfly stopped its flight momentarily to rest against the browns and greens of the forest.

And a large, red barn provided a nice contrast in the distance.

As our walk ended, the rows of corn, standing at attention like soldiers on a field, reminded us eloquently that we're in Ohio, as they looked eagerly toward the sunny skies on this, the zenith moment before the year (that only now seems to have started) begins its inevitable waning.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Home, sweet home

I made it home late last night after my husband picked me up at the airport and we stopped at the grocery store to stock up on my necessities (like lactose-free and soy milks), and about 20 minutes into being home, there was a faraway explosion and the world went dark.

The little village in the middle of nowhere had lost power when one transformer blew up for reasons unknown (probably because there are so many trees around here that anything can happen to the power lines on a windy night, and it wasn't all that windy!). The electricity wasn't restored until past 1 a.m., when I got up to turn off all the lights that had been on around 10:20 p.m., when we had just settled in to enjoy the night.

The blackout was followed this morning by my desktop computer going completely haywire, deciding to turn off on me and crash several times, giving me The Blue Screen of Death with dire messages that I couldn't read fast enough to take note of what was going on, and basically calling it quits. I delivered it this afternoon to a computer repair place and they said they were backed up and would probably have it ready late next week, at best. GaD I have my office laptop or I don't know what I would do!

So, yes, the return has been a little accident-ed, to say the least, but I'm not taking that as an omen. Regardless of the small setbacks, it's good to be home with my husband and the kitties. We all (well, I can't speak for the cats) miss Geni terribly and she's left a huge void in our lives and in our small apartment by the woods in which she was the center of everyone's attention (even Magellan got jealous if Geni received more pets than she did).

But, even if greatly reduced, our little family is once again together and we're all happy for that, as you can see from this photo of two contented cats, doing what they do best (in Darwin's case, keeping watch on the birds and squirrels outside the window, and in Magellan's, napping).

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A year of losses

In a recent phone conversation with my husband, he said, in a quiet voice: "This has been a year of losses." Losses, or near losses, indeed. A year that, even before it started, was already marked by the loss of my abuelita and then of Rusty and then the news that my father might be next. And my husband has also dealt with losses and near losses in his own family.

Today, I return home to Ohio where my husband awaits so that we can try to salvage the summer now that my dad is doing so well and I'm not immediately needed here in Puerto Rico. Hopefully, and this is my fervent prayer, there will be more tranquilidad in our lives for a while. Last night, I made the pledge that I would make the most of the rest of this year. Life is short and unpredictable and every single minute counts. Nothing should be taken for granted. I already knew that but it's good to remind myself so that I don't get caught up in petty frettings that mean nothing in the larger scale of things.

On Monday, my mom and I went to my abuelita's home (pictured above) where I eventually met some mudanceros (moving men). The house has been sold, and as inheritance, my abuelita left me her bedroom set, made of Puerto Rican wood by Puerto Rican artisans more than 80 years ago, and I had to move it to a nearby storage facility until my husband and I figure out how and when to get it to Ohio once we have a home to put it in.

The bedroom set, which is in pretty good shape, includes a double bed with headboard and footboard, a chest of drawers (where my abuelo used to hide bubble gum in the very top drawer that I could never reach), an armoire (which still smells of my abuela's perfume), and a coqueta (or vanity), complete with its little bench and large, antique mirror. All of it is made of dark, lustrous wood, which hasn't lost its shine in all these years.

Precisely because this has been such a year of losses and near-losses, I didn't want to part with it, even if that would've been the most convenient thing to do. But love isn't about convenience, and my abuela wanted me to have that set and I wanted to oblige her, especially because it's part of my history, too, in more ways than one.

It was sad walking into the now near empty house, with its overgrown yard which, in life, my grandmother had always insisted on keeping pristinely manicured. Her beloved pink roses are in dire need of attention, as are her margaritas africanas, or Gerbera daisies, which were her pride and joy. Inside, the house was mostly vacant except for the bedroom set. I was thrilled when my mother found my abuela's trademark black paraguas (umbrella; or, literally, "stop-the-waters"), whose edges are trimmed with shinny, silver tips. I always remember my grandmother carrying that umbrella on her many walks to town (she never used taxi cabs, preferring to walk miles and miles to do her shopping, like the country girl that she was).

I spent many days of my life in that humble house, and many hours seated with her in that front porch, chatting about anything and everything, speaking louder and louder as she got older and deafer. On Monday, I even saw the big, brown lagartijo, or lizard, that she accused of nipping at her heels when she sat on her favorite chair. I thought she was imagining things until I sat on the same chair once, and felt a nip on my heel and there was the large, brown lagartijo eyeing me with its beady eyes, challenging me to do something about his trespass. I want to think that the big, brown lagartijo that we met when my mom and I entered the porch that day, and which didn't show signs of concern, was the very same one.

The bedroom set, along with the sewing machine my abuela also left me, was eventually secured in an excellent storage facility and in some future day will make its way to our next home, where I will find someone who can repair the cracks in the wood (there are many Amish woodworkers in Ohio so maybe one can help with this) and get the set back to its original glory, or as close as possible.

I guess that, as long as we take something, and I don't mean materially, from what we lose, or almost lose, then the loss is less absolute and devastating. Todo pasa y todo queda, said the poet, and he couldn't have been more right. Things may be lost because of the ravages of time, but, as long as we remain, what they meant and why they mattered remains with us.

Monday, June 15, 2009

¡Adiós, Geni! ¡Hasta siempre!

This is my husband's favorite photo of Geni during happier times.

1995 (?) - 2009

Today is a sad, sad day because everyone's favorite sata has left us. Geni, the street dog that showed up at our doorstep in 1998, an hour or so before Hurricane Georges was to devastate Puerto Rico, has called it a life. She hasn't been herself for a while, several months, in fact, but in the last few days she simply stopped eating, a clear sign that her body was calling it quits after almost 14 years.

That's not surprising, given that Geni has been the survivor of Cushing's Disease since 2003, an aggressive mast cell cancer that required a terribly invasive surgery in 2006, and diabetes since earlier this year. A little body can only take so much, and Geni, "The Miracle Dog," as her vet liked to call her, was a born survivor, who survived the mean streets of Guaynabo. But a todos nos llega la hora, and the bell finally tolled for Geni.

I first saw Geni 11 years ago, meandering on our street in Guaynabo, looking for food, a homely stray dog that had obviously recently had a litter of puppies. I've often wondered what those puppies must have looked like, given that Geni had such a genetically creative look herself (she seemed to be a mix of almost every dog!).

I started leaving food out for her, which she would gladly eat but she never approached me, and she ran away when I tried to get close to her. That went on for several weeks, until we stopped seeing her for a few days and I thought, sadly, that something bad and inevitable had happened to her. But on the day Hurricane Georges hit, she showed up, obviously hurt, on our doorstep, seemingly knowing that we were her last chance for survival.

My husband and I didn't know what to do because she had never come close enough for us to pet her and we didn't know how she would react to being carried inside (she didn't want to step through the gate into our house and we were minutes away from the winds starting to howl). We came up with the idea of throwing a towel around her so she would not be able to hurt us and that's how my husband brought her inside.

After that, she never left us again. Sometimes, my husband would forget to lock the gate, and when I came home from work, my neighbor (in true Puerto Rican chismosa form) would inform me of all of Rusty's doings and of his meandering around the neighborhood. But not Geni, no. Geni had stayed put, right next to the kitchen door, awaiting us, even when the gate was wide open, refusing Rusty's invitation to follow him to freedom.

The only times Geni would go out and run into the streets were on trash nights when my husband put out our trash cans and then Geni loved to run past him, and up and down the street. We figured out that trash night must have been boon time when she was a hungry stray and so she still looked forward to whatever morsels-in-the-garbage she could find on those nights.

Geni always had the appetite of an animal that has known hunger, and that's why her rapid decline over the past week or so has been so heartbreaking, especially for my husband, who has witnessed and handled it all first-hand given that I'm still in Puerto Rico. Geni would eat anything and everything you offered her, including her own or another dog's poop, which she thought of as a true delicacy. For most of her years with us, she even had a weight problem and her various vets always recommended that we watch her diet.

Geni's name was proposed by my sister's girls, who back in their childhood were great fans of Madeleine, the cartoon girl who lived in France and who adopts a stray she calls Genevieve. That was Geni's full name, but she always went by her nickname, which was variably misspelled at different vets as Jenny, Jeni, Jennie, etc. But Geni didn't mind.

The best thing about Geni was her gleeful personality. She was the most loving, accommodating and affectionate dog you could imagine. She never bit or nipped a human being (in her younger days, she did chase and bite a few dogs in the butt, as they were running away from her) and only mildly yelped at Rusty when he got a little too amorous (she was spayed, he wasn't neutered yet). Even Darwin took advantage of Geni's legendary good temper, treating her as his personal toy, rubbing himself against her face, her ears and, at least on one occasion, boxing her face with his front paws.

During this last year of her life, Geni's favorite thing was her wonderful, comfy bed, given to her by her fairy Godmother, titi D, and her warm fleece blanket, which she liked to toss around her bed, when the spirit moved her and she had the energy. Geni loved to be petted, and would insist on further petting by gently but firmly placing her paw on your knee, your hand, whatever was near. Geni loved when Dr. S stopped by and gave her some TLP (tender loving petting).

But more than anyone Geni loved my husband. She would always welcome him home when he returned from being away (whether from a trip, from work, or just from being out on an errand) by running as fast as she could toward him and then back to the house or apartment. This year, there was no running anymore, just a little mild trotting, but the glee was always there (she never was that enthusiastic in her welcoming of me).

At our yard in our erstwhile city home she loved to run round and round on the grass so fast that we feared she would break one of her spindly legs (she always looked more like a sheep than a dog). Thankfully, she never did injure herself that way (although she did manage to slip and fall a few times on the tile floor of the house, which she found too slippery). She really liked the wall-to-wall carpeting in the small apartment near the woods.

Unlike Rusty, however, Geni was never a great lover of walks on the leash, although in later years she did come to enjoy them now and then, especially when she figured out that she also (like Rusty) could pee on sign posts, plants, and rocks and claim them as her own. She also never saw the fun in car rides, unlike Rusty, who loved them, and she never did quite figure out what all the fuzz about traveling in a car was.

With Geni's departure, now six months or so after Rusty's, my husband and I are, strangely, dog-less. These two satos were so much a part of our marriage (now almost going on 15 years), and our lives have been so organized around and by them because of their multiple illnesses and special needs, that they will leave a huge void.

My consolation is that we gave Geni the best life we could and a life she would've never been able to dream of as a stray dog in Puerto Rico. In Ohio, Geni was happy and we were happy with her, and we didn't want her to suffer even one more day, even if that meant my not being able to say a last goodbye in person.

Tonight, Geni will rest next to Rusty, at my parents' in law place in West Virginia, which she loved. The last time we took her there, a few months ago, she managed to leave the compound (as they call it) and went exploring God knows where, looking for dens and secret places in the woods, like every street dog dreams of doing. But age had taken its toll, and we knew that even those trips to WV were becoming too hard on her.

Tonight Geni rests in peace, without pain or discomfort or illness. May her beloved, sweet soul roam her favorite haunts without fetter or fear, and may she always remember how much those she leaves behind loved and cherished her.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Coming home

This is my dad's favorite place these days, reading a book or a magazine in the balcony. Every day he gets a little better, and, according to the oncologist, the chemotherapy he underwent earlier this year helped to stay the cancer's progress, for now.

That's great news all around, especially after I've spent most of this year in Ohio worrying about what was going on here. But now the tables have turned and Geni, my faithful old viejola, is the one having a tough time back home.

Now that things are stable here at my parents' home, I'm leaving earlier than I had planned to join my husband, who's been caring for Geni full-time and who's also dealing with an anarchic Magellan, who's decided that she doesn't want to pee in the litter box any more. Her latest stunt was peeing on top of the plastic clothes hamper in the bathroom.

Before that, she went on strike, protesting the corn-based litter that I was using, which is fantastic because the cats don't track so much of it with their paws, reducing the need to sweep and mop the bathroom floor (where the litter is kept in the small apartment by the woods) every other hour.

But Empress Magellan didn't approve of the corn-based litter, preferring the gray-sand-looking one, so she took to pooping on the bathroom floor or the bathtub. My husband was almost at his wit's ends when I suggested that he change the litter back to the old one. Apparently the trick worked, because Magellan has decided to return to the litter to poop, although she still prefers the bathtub for peeing.

All this is to say that after 3 weeks here, I'll be going home next week to relieve my husband of his never-ending dog-nursing and cat-sitting duties. I hope Geni improves over the weekend because, if not, this might be the last days Geni spends among us. She's had a good run, though. Ailing from Cushing's Disease, she should've only survived 2 years after that diagnosis, which was given to us almost 7 years ago. She also survived an invasive, cancerous mast cell tumor and a traumatic radical surgery that included having the skin on her left flank cut in several places (like a slab of pork being prepared for seasoning) so that the skin would be tensile enough to heal. And this year she developed diabetes. And she's 15 years old.

No wonder the vet calls her "The Miracle Dog." She's been a fighter and a miracle all her life, that dog from the streets of Guaynabo, and she's been an integral part of our little pack since 1998. I'm praying hard to St. Francis for her to recover once more.

But sometimes even the strongest of warriors have to call it a life. And maybe Rusty has come back to get her so she can join him in his runs, as my mom says. I'm hoping it's not that time for Geni yet. I'm hoping she's still there to greet me when I come home next week. Here's to hope.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The star and the star wanna-be

While Magellan got to do her Diva thing today in Ohio when my husband allowed her to enjoy her favorite pastime: lounging in the sun on the outside furniture, I was busy in San Juan this morning recording a TV interview about postcolonial studies.

I grew up, como quien dice, in TV studios, because of my dad's long-standing career as a politologist, or political analyst, and regularly visited the sets of the many programs he invented and produced throughout my childhood, as well as the others he participated in throughout the years. I even remember suggesting the music of "Star Wars" for one of the last programs he produced back in the 1980s!

Thus, being in a TV studio is not intimidating for me, and I enjoyed being made up by the professional make up artist. It's not every day that you get someone who's paid to do her best to make you look better than you really are. I was sorry I didn't have anywhere else to go that day because all that effort sort of went to waste after the interview. Still, I'll admit that I didn't take the make up off until very late that night. Vanity, thy name is Woman (and Man, too), indeed. Especially after you hit the late 40s...

The 30-minute interview was fun and went quickly because it was really just a conversation between the interviewer, who was one of my father's students in a course on postcolonial studies in the 1990s, and myself. The best part was that he was very knowledgeable and asked great questions. It will be aired sometime in late July or early August and the producer promised that she'd get me a copy of the interview so my husband can watch it and so I can keep it for my records.

Unlike Magellan, who thinks of herself as an empress deserving of worship (queen is just too lowly for her), those were my a-little-more-than-15-minutes-of-fame, and I have to say I enjoyed them. It's always nice to have the chance to converse with someone who cares and knows about what one knows, and to realize that one actually does know something of value, after so many years of study and writing.

To put it in perspective, though, my father has done 18 such interview programs for that university channel (the second public broadcasting channel on the island and the one not owned by the government). I don't think I'm ever going to match that record, although the producer and interviewer did say they might invite me back the next time I was in Puerto Rico. They probably said that just to be nice, but I appreciated the gesture.

But it sure felt good to be recognized as a scholar, not just a star wanna-be, although that's what I really am (for now).

Sunday, June 7, 2009

While I've been away...

Geni got sheared for summer, and doesn't look at all like herself (I believe Dr. S has referred to her as "the velveteen puppy"), while Darwin has decided to make himself comfortable among my husband's T-shirts on the top shelf of his closet. His getting up there is quite the production, let me assure you, so that's probably why he looks so sleepy. Although it could be simply that he's a cat.

These photos are courtesy of my husband who keeps me abreast of the goings on at our small apartment near the woods when I'm away. I know we're missing a picture of beautiful Magellan, but then, she is the most photographed member of our little family.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Green incandescence

There is something about the way the tropical sun hits the leaves on the trees outside my parents' apartment that seems almost magical, like it sets the green on fire from the inside of the leaf.

I've been loving the warmth here so much that I've simply refused to turn on the air conditioner in my father's car, which is the vehicle I use to run the few errands I have here (mostly to the nearby Starbucks, the supermarket, the drugstore, the panadería, or the video store).

After the seemingly interminable cold of Ohio (it was 53 degrees there this morning!), I've relished the feeling of the sun on my skin, and even the actual sweating, especially because the sea breezes distinguish this type of hot weather from the sometimes oppressive humidity of the northern summer.

The days feel long (even though the sun sets a lot earlier here than back home) and the hours stretch themselves lazily, like a cat, inviting me to slow down and reevaluate the need to be always in a rush. There is no rushing here, nothing to rush for or to. It's most definitely a change in pace after such a crazy busy year.

Taking advantage of the fact that I can choose what I want to work on during the hours of my day, I've finished the report I'm supposed to submit about my "professional activities" during my first year in the tenure-track. Since I don't have anything to compare it to I can't know whether it's different or the same as most of my junior colleagues. But I have a feeling I did a lot more than might be expected because the report is rather long. A good friend and fellow first-year-tenure-tracker at another small college describes this year as "insane," and I think she's definitely onto something. We were undoubtedly well prepared by our big university but, in the end, we didn't expect it to be like it was. We are definitely both much the wiser now, and everyone assures us the second year is better. I have to believe it has to be.

But the second year is still a ways away, and its inevitable approach is more reason for me to take time not so much to smell the roses, since I don't have immediate access to any here, but to ponder the magic of the tropical sun on the green of leaves of the trees outside my parents' apartment. Verde que te quiero verde, said the poet García Lorca, and how right he was.