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.