Monday, August 31, 2009

Of goldfinches and an errant chickadee

My husband took this photograph at the request of my dad, who gets immense pleasure from watching los amarillos, or "the yellow ones," feasting at the fancy feeding station that my husband designed and built at our new home. Sometimes we have counted at least eight goldfinches, male and female, at the feeder, more than we've ever seen together at any other place we've lived.

I feel truly blessed that I can offer my parents these quiet moments of joy, watching the birds, watching Lizzy play with her toys, or having dinner all together at the dining room table. This evening, my parents and I went grocery shopping (something my mom and I end up doing almost every two days because the food in the refrigerator vanishes so quickly), and we met up with a colleague and a former student, all in a matter of minutes.

A few days earlier, my mom and I had met my department chair at the store's dairy aisle, and my dad and I came across two of my closest friends at the check-out lane on Sunday when we went to get his obligatory copy of The New York Times.

Early today, my mom had a battery of tests done between 7:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. since she wants to make sure all bases are covered before the two of them even consider returning to their home in Puerto Rico. In the meantime, I'm delighted to have them here and to enjoy that feel of family, especially because my husband so graciously helps out and I can go to work without worries because I know he's in charge when I'm gone.

I know these days, filled with an embarrassment of goldfinches, won't last forever. That's why I'm rejoicing and treasuring and marking the pages of my memories carefully so that the joy doesn't end when todays become yesterdays.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

I miss summer already

Summer is officially over and you can tell because there's been a two-week silence on this blog, mostly due to the fact that I haven't had a chance to sit here with some leisure to post pictures and update you on what's been going on. And there's been a lot going on, let me tell you.

For one, my parents arrived into Ohio on Aug. 17 and I picked them up at the airport hotel the following day to bring them to our new house where they planned a three-week visit. Those plans changed when, on the 18th, my mom had a "transient ischemic attack" (or a temporary stroke), which scared the bejeezus out of all of us, including her. We had finished a nice lunch at the cafe in my small college on the hill when my mom started feeling odd as her left side became numb. We rushed her to the nearby health center (blessed be small college towns!) and a few minutes later the emergency squad was there to take her to the nearby hospital (blessed be small towns!).

She spent the night and most of the following day at the hospital but, other than not being able to sleep very well because of all the interruptions of nurses coming in and out and calling each other through the intercom system, she had a very good experience there. Everyone was nice and professional and they even had a menu so she could choose her meals. "This is definitely the first world," my mom said, having become an unwilling connoisseur of hospitals not through any illness of her own but through me, my father and other family members.

In my book, all is well that ends well, and my mom was released and recovered quickly but decided that she wanted to stay longer with us to have tests done and get follow up from a cardiologist (the mini-stroke was due to untreated hypertension) before they embark on the complicated trek back to their home. Right now, they don't have a specific date for return in mind, since my mom will be having a battery of tests done on Monday and then will see the cardiologist again in early September.

For my husband and me it's a relief to have them both here instead of thousands of miles away and we're happy to be able to offer them a comfortable, spacious place for them to have the first nearly worry-free time they've had this year.

Lizzy has taken a shine to my dad, who insists that she has the makings of a scholar because she likes to nuzzle his hand when he's reading. My husband and I think he's being grandfatherly optimistic since Lizzy doesn't give many signs that she's of the intellectual persuasion. She's more of a jock, I would say, especially because of her love of running at full speed in the yard with no rhyme or reason, and her love of chasing balls and toys and tearing things apart.

Meanwhile, Magellan and Darwin simply love living here and don't seem to pay much attention to my parents, except Darwin who will occasionally approach my mom for some petting.

As for me, I just had a full week of school-related meetings and activities and today will meet my first-year advisees to go over their schedules for this semester. Classes begin next week and I'm almost ready in terms of what I need to get done but not ready at all in terms of animus.

Even with its ups and downs, this was the best summer in recent memory and I regret that it must come to an end. But I do look forward to whatever new insights and learning this new teaching time will bring, and I am glad I get to share a few more weeks (months?) with my parents.

Goodbye summer, I sorely miss you already!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Late summer beauties

"It's a shark," my younger friend said, as we stood in the back yard of a Jamaican colleague who graciously and generously invited us to share in the bounty of his marvelous huerto, and we tried to describe the shapes of the cumulus clouds that rolled lazily by on the summer-blue sky.

Both my friend and I left our colleague's lovely home with grocery bags full of a late summer harvest of produce and herbs (carrots freshly pulled from the soil, cabbages cut from their gigantic elephant-eared plants, cucumbers, zucchini, basil, rosemary, thyme and lavender) and a recipe for cooking callaloo, a Caribbean green similar to spinach but much tastier.

His immense vegetable garden is impressive not only because it's so well laid out and cared for but because of the many varieties of planted goodies it offers up from the earth. After dropping off my friend, who was already planning on making good use of her pumpkin-sized head of cabbage, I came home and promptly cooked up the callaloo as instructed and my husband and I had a little feast and discovered a brand new food source. A city girl who knew next to nothing about vegetable gardening, or where food actually comes from, I am now planning my own fully stocked huerto for next year and today received the seed packets for growing arugula and baby spinach for a fall harvest. I sure have come a long way since I arrived in Ohio eight years ago.

Late summer is one of my favorite times here, not only because of the gifts the earth gives us each time, like a knowing lover eager to please, but also because of the warm, humid days, and even because of the atonal song of the cicadas (so long as one doesn't actually fly near me). This summer has warmed up considerably in the past few days, and while the locals complain that the summer was "so good" because it has been a cooler summer, I'm in my element in the heat. At least, on those days, I get a feeling of belonging that eludes me on all the other cool or cold or frigid days.

Tonight, the fourth? fifth? peach cobbler of the season is cooling in the kitchen, and some Ohio-grown chicken awaits in the refrigerator for me to season it with the recently acquired lavender. This weekend, I will make a visit to an orchard to stock up on apples so I can have an apple pie ready for my father who, along with my mother, arrives next week (God willing) for a long-awaited visit.

My prediction is that my father will sit himself in the large, comfy chair overlooking the front of the house in our "reading room," and will only get up for meals and sleep time, and that my mother will sit herself on the deck to will be hypnotized by all the trees that crowd our now large yard.

Meanwhile, Lizzy doesnt' know it but she's looking forward to meeting two more members of her ever-increasing family, having met her other grandparents last weekend, when they came up from West Virginia for a short visit to see the new house. We attended her first obedience class last night and she acquitted herself honorably, learning the "sit" and "down" commands pretty readily (as long as I have a treat in hand, of course). Now I have to work on "stay," "leave it," and "aquí" my command for having her come to me. Those are going to take a lot longer, I have a feeling.

Thus, as this nicest of summers (so far) crawls unwillingly, if inevitably, to its end, I'm still taking advantage of every single moment so that, when it is all over and I'm back in the hustle and bustle, I can say, truthfully and without apology, that this was a great summer.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Balmy summer day

This summer has been unusually cool in Ohio but today we've finally reached 90 degrees, which makes the day feel wonderfully balmy and almost tropical. I started my day late this morning and it was past 11 a.m. when Lizzy and I got onto our trail to see what offerings it had for us.

Although I know exactly where these trails will lead me, I like the fact that you can't tell what's coming around the bend, suggesting an element of surprise that is refreshing on every walk. Yesterday, there was a bunny sitting in the middle of the path until it espied us and quickly vanished, Lizzy in hot pursuit.

The obedience training teacher last week asked us to observe our dogs and to bring a list to class this week with their most salient traits. Lizzy is totally a hunting dog. When she smells a trail, she's relentless and pays no mind to the world (mostly meaning me).

The photo above pretty much gives a sense of what my view is twice a day nowadays, as Lizzy pulls ahead of me for most of the trail, tracking whatever smell she's picked up and, surely, dreaming of the prey she's certain (in her very self-confident mind) to catch soon.

I'm actually considering enrolling her in the hunting class after she's passed obedience training. While the dogs don't do any actual hunting since these are animal lovers we're talking about, they are taught to use their ingrained abilities primarily for fun. I think Lizzy would love that class.

Like Lizzy, I'm an animal of routine, and I'm glad to have her along to share in them since we spend most of the day in each other's company. The dog no me pierde ni pie ni pisada. Where I go, there she must follow, so much so that we joke we should've named her "shadow." But I can feel her getting more comfortable and self-assured with her life among us now that it's a little over 2 weeks since she joined our household.

That's one of the major differences between dogs and people. I could never stand to have someone around the way Lizzy is around me. I'm much too private and love my solitude much too much to enjoy that (that's one of the reasons why my husband and I get along so well, even after 15 years of marriage, because we both appreciate our time apart as much as the time we have together).

Unlike a human might, Lizzy demands nothing of me except to be near, and she gives freely in the equal measure that she receives. I love my dog.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

These days

These days Lizzy does a lot of napping, especially in the sun, on the deck, where she can stretch herself and snooze to the chirping of the birds and the rustle of the breeze in the trees.

Spaniel that she is, Lizzy is a highly active dog. She reminds me of a young Rusty, who simply loved to run in circles as fast as he could. Lizzy likes to do that, too, so our new large yard is not only put to good use but has become essential in sating her thirst for vigorous exercise.

There are nearby trails maintained by the environmental branch of my small college on the hill and Lizzy and I like to walk them in the mornings and evenings. I've decided not to carry my Ipod with me in such walks because it seems sacrilegious to prefer human-made music to the sounds of the forest and fields surrounding the trails. My walking shoes were all muddy when I returned, and Lizzy had to be dried up, but we both felt exhilarated by the outside exercise. The dog does honor to her namesake, Lizzy Bennet, who loved to walk outdoors.

At home, we've started to settle into our new home, and my husband is delighted with his new office, which he is slowly outfitting to his taste. It's the first time in our 15-year marriage that he has such a nice office and he's really enjoying it. Magellan, seen here perched on her cat-seat at one of his front-facing windows, has become his "administrative assistant," my husband informs me.
We will now begin to prepare for the visit of my parents, who are making the trek here to what I'm sure they're going to find is a better sanatorio than any other home I've ever had (except for the occasionally annoying sounds of teenagers spending time in a pool on a nearby hilltop or riding their ATVs on the trails within their huge property). But almost all of the time this place is near perfection and I find myself thanking God over and over again for this and all the other blessings in my life.

I think Lizzy feels thankful for all her blessings, too, especially after titi D and tío J came over for dinner earlier this week and brought her five new toys to be added to all the other toys I had already gotten her and the few she inherited from Rusty. We did discover last night, to my husband's great annoyance, that Lizzy had chewed out one corner of one of the sofa cushions. The woman who fostered Lizzy (back when she was known as Roxie) joked that she might chew on my sofa but didn't seem to be serious about the possibility. I guess she wasn't actually joking.

So we'll have to keep a keener eye on Miss Lizzy (well, technically, since she had a litter she shouldn't be a Miss but who obeys such rules anyway?) to make sure she sticks to chewing up her toys and not to the furniture. Tonight we will be attending the first session of her obedience classes (this one is for the "parents" and then she begins to attend next week). We'll see how that goes. In the meantime, as August continues its relentless move to its end, the plan here among all of us, human, cat and dog, is to sacarle el jugo a each and every day of summer that remains.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A day at the fair

Today my husband and I took a break from all the moving and organizing that we've been doing to attend the last day of the county fair since I'd never attended one in these parts before. Once there I bemoaned the fact that I'd left my trusty digital camera at home, but my phone camera didn't do badly, considering.

Attendance was sparse early in the afternoon and already most of the animals had been taken away, back to their farms, but the typical fair fare was in prominent display.

Personally, the only one I cared for was the cotton candy stand, and I was surprised to find that there was only one such and that it was hidden way back at the fairgrounds. What's a fair without cotton candy, I ask? Most pleasant was the discovery that the bag of cotton candy I proceeded to eat had only 114 calories.

There were still a few animals on display (the most impressive being the gloriously beautiful draft horses one of which was truly a king among horses but there wasn't any light in the make-shift stable so I couldn't take his photo). These good-looking chickens had a sign on them that said "broilers" and some cute rabbits were marked as "fryers." Who fries bunny rabbits for God's sake?

The hogs were huge and noisy and smelly but the "Porkettes" stand was busy with long lines in contrast to the taco and Indian bread stands for which there was no excitement. You can tell we are in the middle of the Midwest.

The last thing we saw was the sheep, most of which had been taken away, but this one seemed friendly enough. I'm not sure if it also was slated for somebody's table but I would bet it was so.

It was a sunny, warm day and while the fair itself was a bit underwhelming (we've decided that leaving it to the last day wasn't the best idea although it couldn't be helped), we had a good time (and fulfilled our quota of junk fair fare for the year). The cutest sight was the pedal tractor pull where little kids pedal to pull a tractor that gets heavier and heavier the farther they advance. The little girls were kicking butt!