Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 is over today! Good riddance, I say!

2010 has ended with nearly record-breaking colds and snow and lived up, almost to the end, to its personality as a difficult and largely unpleasant year for nearly everyone I know and care for.

The good news, at least weather-wise, is that the forecast for January and February, as my husband informs me, calls for warmer than normal temperatures.

My wish is for a "life" forecast in the new year that is also happier and kinder for us all than it has been in 2010. May 2011 be gentler and more compassionate than its predecessor.

¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

¡Feliz Navidad!

This was the song that played on the car radio back in January 1988 when, deathly sick, I was driven by my then-boyfriend to the BWI airport with my mom, who had come to bring me back home. We boarded the plane that would take me back to live permanently in Puerto Rico for the first time since I'd left in 1978, a stint that lasted 13 years until, once more deathly ill, I left the island for Ohio in 2001. A year later, I had the life-saving surgery that gave me this second chance at life.

Thus, this song means a lot to me, not only because it's a Puerto Rican artist singing a happy song about Christmas but because I remember como si fuera ayer my white-knuckled anxiety at traveling in that condition (including the fear that my boyfriend's old car would break down on the BWI parkway on the way to the airport in a dark, chilly winter morning). The car made it to the airport, we made the flight, and the rest, as they say, is history and a much better one, at that.

Back then, the song gave me hope. And it still does so today. ¡Feliz Navidad!

Friday, December 24, 2010


I grew up listening to this lovely Villancico about Nochebuena, or Christmas Eve. I'm not a particularly religious person, but I love the idea of a night that anticipates individual and communal redemption.

¡Feliz Navidad!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Winter 2010

Although winter arrived roaring in these parts at the start of December, it officially began yesterday evening. The little downtown at my small college on the hill is adorned with cheery white lights to combat the frigid somberness that has descended over the landscape.

There is still a lot of beauty to be appreciated and to be found, like the glint of sunshine on freshly packed snow, which makes the little ice crystals look like a treasure of tiny glittering diamonds.

Or the familiar trail that takes on a more measured and circumspect personality, at the same time that it's more open since everything is available to the eyes.

Although 2010 has been a most difficult year and the saddest one of them all because of my father's death in July, I am appreciative of the good things this year has brought, especially the research leave that ends with it.

During this time, I have tried to conquer, and actually may have conquered, my propensity to continually put myself last after my work and have managed to get to the gym almost every single day ever since I returned from Puerto Rico on Dec. 6. That feels like an accomplishment because I've always managed to be very disciplined about my professional responsibilities but not so constant when it comes to doing things that are good for me.

I also took the time this semester to quilt again, rescuing my abuela's machine from oblivion and actually finishing a fall quilt hanging that now graces the guest room furnished with my abuela's antique bedroom set.

Also in personal terms (there has been much achieved that is work-related, too!), I set a weight loss goal of about 10 pounds and am only about 2 pounds shy of that, which is good considering that, starting with Thanksgiving, this is the season for overeating.

I've also kept, more or less well, to my new schedule of trying to go to bed early (before 11 p.m.) and getting up before 8 a.m. so I can make it to the gym early and have the whole day ahead of me to do what needs doing.

These small accomplishments, which do seem major to me after a pretty horrid spring and summer, do balance out, a little bit, this most challenging year. I won't be sad to see 2010 end in a little over a week. But I also can think of reasons to appreciate what this year has brought.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Navidad story

My recuerdos are mostly impressionistic rather than exact. Like the ghost of a memory I have of looking down a long flight of steps and of myself as a bald toddler wearing a red shirt, a nearly impossible and improbable recollection. My mom has said that memory may be of the stairs leading to the second-floor apartment my parents first lived in near my grandparents in Río Piedras, after we moved back to Puerto Rico from Boston, where I had been born a year or so before. But one Christmas memory I have is as vivid as a short film playing back in my mind’s eye.

I mostly don’t remember years or chronologies so I have little notion of how old I must have been in this Navidad, but I guess it had to be sometime before I was old enough to know, for sure, that there was no such person as Santa Claus. It was also before my parents decided that the best way to prevent us children from falling prey to the Christmas consumerism that was becoming the norm in the 1970s was to whisk us out of Puerto Rico each holiday season to such far away locations as the then-Soviet Union, Greece and Paris, among others. (Most of the trips were through low-cost educational tours for which my parents saved all year.) This one memory is of a Christmas still in the house behind the hospital, where I lived my entire childhood, until we moved to a newly built condominium shortly before I left for college a month or two short of my 17th birthday. It must date back to just about when I began to suspect that Santa Claus was really a pen name, so to speak, for my parents.

Inspired by a television ad in which little blonde americanitos ingratiatingly left cookies and milk for Santa, I devised a plan to confirm my suspicions. I would leave similar treats on a plate with a note, asking Santa a question. If Santa didn’t answer, I would know it was because my parents were worried that I would be able to discern their handwriting, which would flush them out of hiding. And, if “he” did answer, then I would have no trouble recognizing my parents’ handwriting, which I knew well, and I would have concluded an investigation worthy of my long-time hero, Sherlock Holmes. (This was after I’d gone through all the closets of the house and looked under all the beds in all the rooms, trying to find the hidden cache of toys, and had found not a one.)

Having worked out all this in my head, I proceeded that Nochebuena to implement my ploy so I could prove to myself (and have demonstrable proof to show my parents and two younger siblings), that Santa Claus was just a big hoax. Satisfied of my ingenuity, I went to bed early, without the usual fuss, and didn’t wake until I heard my siblings’ screams of joy at what Santa had left. In years past, mind you, I had always gone to bed later than everyone else, staying up until the wee hours, seated cross-legged on the floor of the hallway outside the room I shared with my sister, reading. On Christmas Day, I usually also awakened before everyone else, climbing over the baby gate at the top of the stairs and stealthily walking into a living room filled with toys (I realize now that our Santa lists must have, indeed, been daunting for a pair of working parents).

There were two identical love seats, upholstered in olive green, and an uncomfortable Spanish-style chair, upholstered in red and held together with large leather belts, placed, like a throne, between the facing sofas. It was on that chair that my brother’s toys were arranged while my sister and I each got our toys placed on one of the sofas. On those earlier years when I was the first one awake, I sometimes took the opportunity to inspect my sister’s treasures and trade them for those, on my sofa, which I wasn’t so pleased by. She claims that this is why she got the same furry riding donkey two years in a row but I more clearly remember trading her some uninteresting baby doll clothes for a set of sparkly Barbie shoes.

This one morning, however, I wasn’t the first but the last one to arrive downstairs to bask in this so-called Santa’s generosity. Almost in awe, I approached the table where I had left the cookies and the milk and blinked twice, taking a sharp breath in, when I noticed that the cookies were gone (there were crumbs on the plate) and the milk had been gulped down almost greedily, as if by a thirsty man wearing a red winter suit while flying on a sled led by sweaty reindeer through the tropical night sky. I took the note with trembling hands and my eyes widened as I saw that Santa had answered my question. What shocked me, however, was that the handwriting was not at all like that of either one of my parents! I had been wrong!, I surmised in awe. The fat gringo in the tacky suit existed, after all.

While I don’t remember what it was that I asked Santa, or what it was that "he" answered, and I never found out who wrote back to me that night, the note was a magical present that I have never forgotten.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Fire and snow

Last Sunday, my husband built the first fire of the season and we spent several hours just sitting in our cozy living room, enjoying the lovely warmth that it provided. Darwin, by far the smartest of our creatures at that moment, made the best decision by getting the closest, and, at one point, we realized that all five furry children had gathered around the fireplace to bask in its calorcito navideño.

There has been little, if any, calorcito around here weather wise for the past two weeks, basically the entirety of this month, when we've been buried under more and more inches of snow. At least today we got some sun even if the windchill was below zero and the temperatures refused to edge above the low 20s, which is 20 degrees colder than normal for this time of year in Ohio. There is more snow forecast for the start of the week while in Maine, where my sister in law lives, temperatures have been in the 50s. Anyone still pooh poohing climate change needs a new brain, that's for sure.

I'm now less than a month away from returning to the classroom and to full-time work and I'm actually looking forward to it. But before January rolls around bringing not just a new year but a new set of challenges and opportunities in spring semester, I will travel at month's end to spend a few days with my family in Maryland for our first such gathering without papi and then I will be in L.A. for a few days in January for the main conference in my discipline. For someone who simply hates to travel (I love getting to places but leaving my home and the actual taking of and being in planes I simply abhor), I'll have made three trips in two months and then I have two other trips pending one for February and another for March. Just thinking about all that flying makes me queasy.

Now that the semester is finally over my weeks will be less busy (even when I haven't been teaching I've found ways to keep myself occupied) since I won't have any meetings with students or colleagues. I'm especially looking forward to a visit from my good friend MC next week and then to a visit by my in-laws who'll be here before Christmas. On Christmas Day, weather permitting, I hope to get to the theaters to watch "The King's Speech," which has gotten a lot of buzz and has Colin Firth as the lead (the immortal Fitzwilliam Darcy in A&E's production of Pride and Prejudice).

Meanwhile, I'm waiting for my Nook, which I ordered yesterday (yes, I've gone over to the Other Side of e-book readers!) after figuring how much I would save just in the amount of books I purchase on a monthly basis, and after my husband gave me his blessing, noting that anything that kept him from having to lug heavy boxes of books was a good idea. I won't have that until next week but I do hope to get it in time for my travels so that I'm not the one lugging 4 or 5 heavy books plus several magazines in my backpack (And guess what e-book I'll buy first? Yes, you guessed it! Pride and Prejudice it is).

The weather doesn't cooperate so it's hard to get outside and do the things we love to do, like walk the dogs on the trails (we can't walk Chiquita any more because she doesn't do well in cold weather). The good side of that is that I'm making it a point to go to the gym every day (except this morning when I walked Lizzy in the biting cold). Today, Lizzy and Chiquita (who are not the best of friends or playmates) even shared the big chair where papi used to sit to read, and they snuggled up in their respective places to take their midday nap.

This cold spell may just be what we have to get used to for the next two and a half months that winter will be around so the dogs are a good inspiration for finding ways to make the best of what is sure to be the winter of our discontent.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Getting in the spirit

Yesterday was the last day of the semester, and even though I've been on leave, after returning from Puerto Rico on Monday, I had a busy week of meetings with students and colleagues either for work-related or celebratory reasons.

While I know, as some well-meaning friends noted, that I wasn't "supposed" to be doing any student-related work during this time, I've had a productive research leave so keeping in touch with my advisees and providing the help they need didn't "interrupt" anything I needed to get done during this time. And while I have vowed that I will be careful in safe-keeping my own time and well-being, I am guided by the principle that, in addition to being a good teacher, I also want to be a valuable role model and mentor in my students' lives, something I lacked when I was in college. If I can do what they need, without violating my vow to myself, I will.

Having a busy week didn't mean I wasn't able to pester my husband into getting the house decorated for Christmas, something that always makes me happy during this season. Even when we lived in the rather run-down junior faculty apartments of my small college on the hill, I decorated the tiny apartment and tried to make it cheery inside and out. But I think this year my husband did the best job ever and the house, lit up at dusk, looks picture perfect to me.

While there is much sadness in my heart that this is the first Christmas to be spent without my papi, I don't feel him entirely gone and I think that's a blessing. He may not be here physically but there isn't a day that I don't remember him and that gives me great comfort. And, at month's end, I'll travel to Maryland for a a couple of days to be with my entire family, as we keep the tradition my dad started in 1999 of getting together for Christmas the New Year's. That was when he thought the world might end as we knew it with the turn of the millennium (in terms of the chaos with computer clocks that so many people had predicted).

Ultimately, Christmas for me isn't about the presents or the parties (not that we have many of those around here) or the fat white guy in a tacky red suit that exploits the poor flying reindeer. It's about traditions and the birth of new possibilities and about re-examining our lives to make sure that we are being true to our beliefs (and I don't mean religious ones) and are leading an examined and purposeful life, one that, hopefully, moves outside and beyond ourselves in its purpose.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Last day in the tropics

Today, my last day in Puerto Rico, my mami and I went to the gym early and then returned home to change before we embarked on our planned day of a museum visit and a late lunch at one of our favorite restaurants.

After we made ourselves presentable, the first stop was to the nearby Starbucks, of course, where my never-varying order of a decaf latte with 3 Splendas (during their recent visit in Ohio, my nephew pointed out that this was a lot of sweetness since one Splenda is supposed to equal at least one teaspoon of sugar) tastes much better here in Puerto Rico than anywhere else where I've had one. I don't know if it's the coffee or the milk or the combination of both but even Starbucks' taste improves in my Caribbean island.

Then we moved on to the Museum of Puerto Rican Art (MAPR for its Spanish initials) to view the new exhibit on José Campeche, the 18th century painter, who was the first Puerto Rican painter of renown. His Dama a caballo, below, not only shows his skill as a portraitist and his attention to minute detail but also gives us a fascinating glimpse into what the clase pudiente (the moneyed class) in the walled city of San Juan, where he lived all of his life, looked like.

His paintings are breathtaking and a great reminder that Puerto Rico may be small as an island but it has produced gigantic talent, refuting my Harvard professor's claim that small countries could not produce anything worthy (he used to claim that Rubén Darío, who hailed from Nicaragua, proved that talent is completely unrelated to where the person is born, rather than considering the artist as an extension of his environment).

After the art museum, we went in search of a T-shirt for the Broadway show In the Heights, which we saw Saturday afternoon, and which, again, made me feel so proud to be a Puerto Rican. A complete re-writing, and a postcolonial writing back to West Side Story, there is no pathology in In the Heights but it's, instead, a celebration of the life of Latin@s in the diaspora, and of Puerto Rican identity outside of the island, in particular. While watching the show, and crying and laughing along its beautiful music, sets, acting, singing and choreography, I thought of how many in Puerto Rico often reject those Puerto Ricans born and raised in the States as "not Puerto Rican" enough, and of how this Tony award-winning musical laughs, loudly and convincingly, in the face of such provincial and small-minded beliefs. I can't wait for the film of the musical to be done so I can teach it alongside West Side Story as the Puerto Rican version (instead of the white version) of Puerto Rican-ness in New York.

Once the T-shirt was secured, we went on to Aurorita's, the Mexican restaurant that was a tradition in my family when I was a kid and which has become a tradition for my sister's and brother's families when they visit Puerto Rico, and where my husband and I had our very first date. Unfortunately, the food wasn't anything to write home about but my mom and I had a nice time before calling it a day and returning home a little bit exhausted by all our small adventures.

Tomorrow, I emprendo camino back to Ohio, where it's currently "pouring" snow (to quote my disgusted husband) and where temperatures are in the low 20s at their best. While I certainly don't look forward to leaving my mom and my calorcito borincano for the nasty Ohio winter, I am looking forward to getting back to my own home in the diaspora. It may be far from this gloriously beautiful (if troubled) island, but it's my home now, nonetheless.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

In Puerto Rico

I've been in my beautiful patria since Thursday when I arrived to spend a few days with my mami before the holidays. It has been strange being here, at my parents' home, without my papi and his absence is felt keenly. But my mami has made changes in the apartment that make it welcoming and cozy, and which help her cope with her new life as a widow.

Yesterday, after spending part of the morning in Old San Juan, we went to our favorite inn by the beach and had fruit frappes, reminiscing about the many times the entire family spent at that beach and how we watched my nieces and nephews grow up chasing the tide and "jumping" the waves, always with my dad, who loved the sea and the beach until he became too sick and frail to enjoy it.

For the past few mornings, I've been able to peruse the newspapers, no longer all cut up by my dad, who used to get up very early to read and underline stories in four different newspapers and then he would clip them to file in voluminous file folders where he kept tract of the island's history as it unfolded (he was a political analyst so he saw this as his job). Now that I can read the papers whole, not in tatters as it used to be when I slept in and didn't get to them before my father's handy news clipping tool was put to use, I found several stories that I know I'd be discussing with him, if he was still here.

The first one is about a pro-commonwealth legislator, accused of domestic violence, who has been asked by the party president to step down but who refuses, stating that he has "committed no crime," even as his party begins the process to kick him out of the Legislature. While the legislator sticks to his guns and refuses to resign, there appears to be enough evidence to process him legally, something that should give him a clue that being publicly humiliated in court is never a good idea for a political career. But, perhaps, like many abusive men, he simply doesn't perceive what he allegedly did to his wife as a crime since there is a machista cultural code that still considers such behaviors as "normal," and not just in my culture.

The other story that struck me refers to the continued fallout of statements made by the pro-statehood Governor's Chief of Staff that he would "forcibly kick the students out" (los sacaría a patadas) of the public university, referring to students who are threatening another strike because the administration wants to impose an $800 fee on them. On an island where almost 70% of the population lives under the federal poverty line, that amount seems beyond ridiculous. On the other hand, the public university is now on probation by the accrediting institution and went through a prolonged strike earlier this year, which makes threats of another strike seem like the throwing out of the baby with the bath water, especially when it is rumored that the current administration wants to privatize the more than a century-old institution.

As if the situation wasn't incendiary enough, in comes the Chief of Staff to make ill-advised and violence-inducing comments and defends himself in today's paper as "having the right to call things as they are, without euphemisms (decir las cosas como son, sin eufemismos)" and to "give the alert, in my own way, directly and with truth as a guide and calling things by their names (dar la voz de alerta, de la manera en que yo soy, directo, con la verdad de frente y llamando las cosas por su nombre)." Since when is shooting first and asking questions later a smart move by or a virtue in a political official? I can't think of any Chief of Staff in the States (or anywhere else for that matter) who would keep the job if he went on a radio show and spoke off the cuff to say things that made the administration look bad. Didn't that much-hailed U.S. general in Iraq lose his job because he did a similar thing? Why would the Puerto Rico governor condone his Chief of Staff, arguing that the latter was just "frustrated" when he made the statements? Because of his position, the Chief of Staff should set the example of moderation and professionalism. But I guess that's not the standard that this administration is following, which begs the question of why do they expect more from the students when the norm they set is one of confrontation and violence?

Many years ago, when I was a newspaper editor and a reporter here, such happenings were the bread and butter of my life. Now, those years are far away but I can still feel the frustration that many of those who live here feel on a daily basis. Still, also on a daily basis I see and feel the promise of not only a gloriously beautiful country but of its beautiful, intelligent and committed youth, who, hopefully, will give us all a better future.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Giving thanks

This Thanksgiving was a very special one, even though my papito couldn't be here to enjoy it with us. My sister came with her three teens (the oldest will be 18 and the youngest turns 13 in January) and her dogs (one of them we kenneled at our nearby vet's office so we wouldn't have to have seven animals in the house at one time), and a lovely time was had by all.

My godchildren are luminous, sweet young adults, and it's a pleasure to be with them. And my sister is a great mother, who has managed to do the very hard work of raising good people while maintaining high standards for them at all times. With three teens, it's exhausting work, for sure, and I admire that she manages to do it with so much love and patience.

For Thanksgiving, my sister and I cooked up a storm, including a 13-pound turkey that came out beautifully, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole (my favorite!), broccoli and onion casserole, cranberry sauce, two pumpkin pies, two apple pies, and a spinach and strawberry salad. Our dear friends, IL and TH, who fed my husband and I for two consecutive Thanksgivings in 2008 and 2009, came with their two kids and brought caramelized carrots and a glorious salad with mandarin oranges and pecans, so the amount of food was biblical. Even though our dining room is small, we were able to set up a small table for the children and all the adults and the teens crowded around our dinner table. It was exactly as Thanksgiving ought to be.

Now that my sister has returned to her home in Maryland, I'm left with a bittersweet feeling and an unexpected yearning. This might just have been the last time that we will all get together for Thanksgiving that way, so I'm especially thankful for the wonderful memories of this past week. The last time my sister came with the kids for Thanksgiving was our very first one in our first house in Ohio in 2001. Nine years is a long time to wait for an encore but it was worth every minute of it.

My mom traveled to be with my brother and his family in Tennessee and they also had a lovely time together. I am deeply grateful that I have a family that, even though my father is now absent, still makes the point to get together and enjoys doing so. Family, both the blood and the chosen one, is what I gave thanks for on Thanksgiving and what I will continue to give thanks for every day after.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mold breaker

One of the personality traits of Chiquita that I love most is that she never is content to meet expectations. When we adopted her, we were told that she would not like walks, that she would be a total couch potato, that she would hate to get her paws wet and would prefer to be carried rather than walk on a leash.

As if on purpose, Chiquita has gone against pretty much all conventions. For one, she loves her walks and will strut just as long and as enthusiastically as Lizzy, who is a Brittany. Chiquita doesn't like to be in her carrier and doesn't much like to be picked up when there is walking and smelling to be done.

Her latest surprise to us is how, by watching Lizzy chase her ball, Chiquita has learned to fetch and retrieve a ball that is almost bigger than she is.

Exceeding expectations. That's a dog after my own heart.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Last ride

Yesterday, on an unusually balmy and breezy Sunday for November in these parts, my husband and I took our very last motorcycle ride to a nearby orchard, where they still have relatively fresh local apples available. Our favorite orchard is closed for the season, but this one keeps their extra apples in cold storage, where they stay more or less fresh for a longer time and there's plenty to choose from for the ubiquitous Thanksgiving apple pie.

The ride was a lovely way to enjoy the last of the warm weather before a cold front threatens to rain and possibly snow on us later this week, probably on Thanksgiving Day. Despite the dire forecast, I'm excited because my sister and her three teens, all of whom are my godchildren, are coming to stay with us for the first time since my husband and I moved to Ohio in 2001. It's been nine years but nunca es tarde cuando la dicha es buena. We'll have a full house on Thanksgiving because my Puerto Rican friend from the Bronx and her husband and two kids are also coming and that's exactly as it should be. It doesn't get any better than that.

Since it was most likely our very last ride of 2010, I thought I'd take a picture of the helmet that my husband gave me as a present a year or so ago, and which he recently enhanced with a sticker that says: "Tribú del Chihuahua." The sticker is perfect for me, for more reasons than one. That's the name that the friends of Valentino Rossi, the greatest MotoGP motorcycle racer ever, call themselves and since I'm a big fan of Rossi's, plus I actually have a Chihuahua (Chiquita), the sticker is perfect for me. (I love the way my husband thinks!)

These moments of happiness all have an edge of sadness since this Thanksgiving is the first I will spend without my dad. He wasn't big on the holiday (though he did like to come to our house in Puerto Rico when we lived there) but not having him with us gives us all the more reason to find ways to make this one particularly special, particularly familial. That's why my mom is going to my brother's and my sister is coming here so we'll all be, in our respective places, en familia, as it should be. And that's something we can all give thanks for.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


My wonderful handyman of a husband today hung the quilted wall hanging from a nice hanger I bought yesterday at a curiosity shop in town and which we decided to place over the bed in our smaller guest room, where my abuela's antique furniture now lives and where, not so long ago but when the room looked very different, my papi abandoned this world for the next one.

I think he would be very pleased with the change in the room's decor and would sing the praises of the quilted wall hanging, even as full of imperfections as it is, so I'm glad that it hangs there, just in case his spirit stops by to visit now and then, as I hope he does.

My next step will be to start on the longer, American Beauty quilt and see how far I can get with that one before the spring semester begins a little more than two months' from now. I am also very grateful to my papi for this leave, which I was only able to get now because of his terminal illness, and which has been a blessing not just because it has allowed me to work on my research and class-planning uninterruptedly but, most of all, because I've had time to, unlike Humpty Dumpty, put myself together again in a world that seems less comprehensible now that he is not in it.

It has also been rewarding to see how, even though I have not been an active presence at my small college on the hill this semester, my 200-level class filled quickly and with 18 people on the wait list I could actually teach two full sessions of that course alone. My other two classes, including my senior seminar, also filled quickly and, in that class, I'm very much looking forward to teaching a group of mostly former students, some of which are the best I've ever had. In planning for next semester, I'm already working hard to make sure I do justice to their and my expectations.

I also recently received a very exciting offer to propose an article for a book on approaches to teaching Hawthorne, which is just perfectly timed, given that I will be teaching the seminar next semester. I've ordered some of the books in the series so I can see the kind of genre this article would fall under and so I can start outlining what I would want to write about in teaching Hawthorne. It would be quite the wonderful coup if I could get an essay into that book. It's a lot to wish for but, as my grad school adviser always said, "Shoot for the stars, and for nothing less!"

These little events more than make up for recent challenges, like having to have a very pricey emergency root canal on a tooth that already had a very pricey crown put on it to try to save it, with no assurances that this second attempt will eventually save that tooth. It may well be that after spending more on one tooth than I have spent in clothes and shoes this year (if you know me well, you can imagine the price tag on that tooth), I will still have to pay more and endure having it ultimately pulled. I find root canals and tooth pulls, two procedures that I know much more than I care to, to be some of the most physically violent and traumatic events in my life these days, in my life that has known several major surgeries and other invasive procedures. En fin, ni modo. Pa'trás ni pa' coger impulso, as my papi would say.

I've also watched myself age considerably this year, especially over the past few months, as my erstwhile raven-black hair has become increasingly peppered with unruly white (not sure why they're called "gray") hairs, which I am not inclined to dye anymore. I've also stopped having my hair flat-ironed and am wearing it natural for the first time in many, many years. While there are political and personal reasons for that, there is also the influence of watching the hair around my temples get very fine and brittle and the fear of impending bald spots has made any further hair straightening a bad idea.

Plus, even when I have been on leave and not exerting myself at all in the same crazy pace that my normal semesters take, I am tired by the day's end and often in need of lying down for a short while before I get a second wind to finish the night.
I've also become more forgetful, which isn't a trait I'm used to having to deal with as much. It's odd and somewhat frustrating when those around me pooh pooh my talk of aging and seem resistant to acknowledging that I am not in my 20s, 30s, or even early 40s anymore. That my energy levels are not as they used to be and that what I want out of life significantly differs from those who are, at the very least, several decades' away from where I find myself.

My husband and I recently agreed that the turn to 50 is something else altogether, and that aging becomes noticeably more palpable every single day, in one reminder or another. At any rate, aging is inevitable, and I plan to do it as gracefully and creatively as I can. Taking up quilting at what seems like a late stage may be part of that plan. Who knows? We'll have to see what the future brings.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Today, I went back to quilting school so that my teacher could "fix" some unseemly puckering and "bubbling" that had happened to my quilt, which she insists was caused, not by my lack of skill (as is my theory), but because of my ancient Singer, whose quilting foot doesn't really press down on the fabric as it should.

She spent about an hour and a half ripping and resewing (with a newer machine at her shop) and we talked about our lives -- she's a nurse and a mother of three teenagers. And then she had me test that machine, which one of her "ladies" is selling, and which is a quilting paso fino compared to my old Singer workhorse. It would cost me a third of what it sells for new and it has everything I would need but I'm not sure how much more quilting I'll be able to do for the rest of the year, especially next semester when I return to full-time work. Plus, large purchases (of more than $200, say) always make me nervous.

One of my favorite parts of quilting is sewing on the binding, which is done by hand, and which I found to be very therapeutic. I still intend to take on the American Beauty quilt and will probably sign on for individual classes to get that started. I would like to continue to have a project that has nothing to do with my work and which engages my creative and manual skills.

The fall-inspired wall hanging is finished just in time. This week we have Indian Summer here and are enjoying lovely temperatures in the 60s (I even have a window and the sliding door to the back open) but, after this weekend, we go into more wintry temperatures in anticipation of what promises to be a very cold winter (a record-breaking crop of acorns this year suggests so, according to some experts).

As late fall shifts into winter, and the trees have lost their leaves and the colors turn to browns and grays, my quilt stands as a remembrance of early fall's flamboyance. I'm glad I made it, warts and all. And what I've learned is that quilting, in many ways, is like any good relationship: challenging, inspiring, fun, maddeningly annoying sometimes, but, ultimately, magically satisfying, if obviously imperfect.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

An examined life

A dear friend talks about her "practice of thankfulness," or the way that she tries to instill that awareness in herself and in her children so that they also are conscious of the blessings in their lives. I very much admire her for that.

As I move toward 50, and after having what could be described as a not-particularly-easy life (battling a disabling and nearly fatal chronic illness for 15 years between my 20s and 40s, having several surgeries and difficult recoveries, having to abandon or adapt life choices because of physical limitations, and struggling with related health challenges) the practice of gratitude (to coin my friend's term) is something I am deeply committed to.

In that vein, I believe it's important to give thanks each and every night for the good and the bad in our lives (after all, they are mirrors of each other), and to make the effort to sincerely appreciate those around us who make a positive difference. Perhaps even to appreciate those who we don't like very much or who are negative forces in our lives because they may be unexpected sources of strength or of insights that wouldn't have been possible otherwise. In my case, I try to remember to regularly tell (and show, which is actually more important) my husband, my family, and my friends how much I love and appreciate them, and how much they mean in my life.

I pray that I always have the self awareness to improve myself before I expect or demand that anyone else be better and that I never take for granted the blessings around me, or fail to notice all that I have to be grateful for, or forget to work hard to be as good a friend, wife, daughter, teacher, mentor, sister or colleague, as I can be.

An unexamined life, the great philosopher is said to have said, is not worth living. As I begin to feel how fast one ages at this point in life, I start to realize that an unexamined life isn't very much of a life at all.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Found beauty

There is a gray, sad starkness to November that often weighs on the soul, especially a Caribbean soul, like mine, which gravitates toward vibrant colors and lush foliage.

But, even in such times, there is beauty to be found. The colors of the setting sun, seen "through the bones of November," as my husband put it, is more spectacular, a sight that would be concealed by the trees during warmer times.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


On these chilly, chilly days, when the frost covers the grass until almost noon, Chiquita doesn't enjoy our walks as much as she does in warmer weather and I often find myself having to pick her up, place her inside my jacket, and carry her most of the way.

There is another type of bolstering that I'm also doing these days. While I'm officially on leave this semester, I decided that I would meet with my student advisees this month to discuss pre-registration for spring since, as their returning adviser then, I will have to handle any problems that might arise with class schedules once the new semester starts. By the time this week ends, I will have met with about 20 students, some of them for an hour or more, some of them twice, and some not even my advisees, but who wanted guidance.

On the days I've had a full schedule of meetings, and I've found myself more tired than usual by evening, I've had to remind myself of the energy expended in these efforts, often trying to bolster students' confidence or helping them figure out their paths during the upcoming semester, if not their upcoming years in college and beyond. This also reminds me of what regular semesters are like for some of us who have many advisees. In spring, for example, I will not only have 20 students to advise but also up to 50 students to teach (still, that should be better than last semester, when I had 25 advisees and 62 students!).

There is, indeed, a lot of effort expended on doing the bolstering, and I am grateful that this is only one aspect of what I do because I've learned that it's not healthy to allow the needs of others to consume your life. I also appreciate that my advisees, in their turn, bolster me when they express their gratitude for my advice or say they're looking forward to taking a class with me. When I hear: "I'm so glad you're back!" or "I've missed you so much," I know I've made the right decision in meeting with them while on leave (a decision some friends have questioned). And I like that I can honestly say: "I'm glad to be back, too!"

Sunday, October 31, 2010


I don't think we come to understand the true value of friendships (or who is truly a good friend) until we've hit the 40s. I just turned 49 and realize that, while I have a lot of acquaintances, I can count my closest friends with one hand and still have fingers left.

Friendships and birthdays are related for me because, since I was young, my parents would have me invite my friends so they could join us for pizza on my day of celebration. My best friend in high school, a friend of 30+ years now, would joke that he was always the one constant every year at those dinners. On my 15th birthday, my father said I could invite 15 friends to a nice restaurant, and the menu, signed by all those who attended, is stashed in a memory box somewhere in my basement. The following year, only my one friend was a repeat among the smaller group I invited to celebrate then.

His friendship always meant a lot to me and it survived my going away to college and medical school for him and graduate school for me again and again. But when we both got involved with our life partners, it gradually stopped being what it had been and became more a lovely memory of how close two people can be even when they are "just friends."

These days, I am still blessed with good friends, but unlike when I was in high school and hung out mostly with a pack of boys, I have mostly women friends now (except for my beloved husband). Of course, these relationships aren't the same as those I had when I was younger, especially because each of us has very busy lives or we live miles and miles apart so it's hard to find and make the time to connect. But they are just as treasured, if not more so.

Last night, a couple of friends invited us to their house for a lovely dinner and they surprised me with this coat for Chiquita, which is just what I was looking for but hadn't found. It was my birthday present from them and it was perfect. It should help Chiquita better handle the upcoming winter, which is just around the corner.

What I know now, which I didn't know so much when I was younger (perhaps even into my early 40s), is that it's not important to have many friends or even a constant group of friends. What is so important is to have a few friends, as I do now, who are loving and appreciative and make me feel that I matter to them and who give friendship in equal measure to the one they receive from me. That is a blessing to be deeply thankful for, as this year begins my journey toward the half century of life.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Little daily blessings

The ability to find the little daily blessings is a skill that I try to work on a lot these days, even while I deal with the eternal crabbiness of impending menopause. I've never been a patient person, but at this age, as I near 49, patience is a highly priced commodity in my life. That's why I love quilting, because it forces me to be patient.

Having five animals, while not generally contributing to the patience department since they all have their quirks and needs and decidedly maddening traits, also forces me to try to be more patient since animals, especially dogs, are keenly attuned to non-verbal cues, and Chiquita, as a Chihuahua, is extremely sensitive to any cross look or pose or tone.

Hamlet, on the other hand, is pretty much inured and immune to anything that doesn't suit his mood. These days, he's mostly going out the back door to come around to the front of the house, looking for the raccoon that he tousled with a few weeks' back, and then begging to be let in so he can repeat the routine again. Talk about cultivating patience when you become a door-woman for a cat.

More recently, he's decided that if he hides below the bird bath, perhaps a clueless bird will miss his girth and blackness and his very loud bell (his collar snaps off so that he can't get in trouble if it gets caught), and actually become his prey. We could think of Hamlet as hopeful, but I prefer to suggest that his IQ isn't very impressive in cat (or any other) terms.

My husband often says: "I had a fish," when we begin conversations about how frustrating (and expensive!!) life with five animals can be. And he's right. When I met him, my husband had a goldfish named Aureliano, who eventually died. When I suggested I'd replace the fish, my then-husband-to-be adamantly refused.

In marrying me, his life got a lot more complicated, first with two cats, then one dog, then another cat who adopted us, then another dog who adopted us, then only two dogs when the two old cats died, but then there was a new cat and then another when we moved to Ohio and then the two old dogs died and there was one new dog and then Hamlet and then Chiquita.

But, as challenging as it can be, I guess that "raising" five creatures is a lot like motherhood. There are many difficulties and low points and times when I wish I'd never had any of them, or that I could give them back, but, ultimately, the devotion they offer and the laughs they give are part of those little blessings of life that sometimes make a hard day more bearable and a good day even better.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Neatly Poe-esque

(The bright moon tonight shining behind the dark battlements of a quirky college building made for a perfect pre-Halloween and nicely Poe-esque shot, and I was glad to have my camera with me for a change. The crows are actually statues? sculptures? on top of the building named after a famous poet and literary theorist.)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Piecing ends

Last Thursday, I sewed the inner border of the quilt (the black border) during class time and the homework was to sew, at home, the outer border (the fall print fabric I picked out first when I initially conceived of what will soon become a wall hanging).

Earlier today, I finished my homework and am pleased with the results. This coming week, we'll do the binding and maybe the actual quilting (today I also bought my "walking foot" for that purpose -- I have to say I love these quilting terms!).

When I did my first outer border strip, I somehow didn't piece it right and ended up having to do the "frog stitch" (as the Mom of Dr. S, an accomplished quilter, told me it's called): rip it, rip it rip it! It's amazing what an exercise in patience it is to rip the tiny seams of a quilted piece. But I need to cultivate that virtue so I just did it and paid more attention the second time around.

Not only is my small quilt coming along, but yesterday I also placed my pre-tenure review materials on reserve in the library and in a box (with color-coded folders!) in my department's secure closet. While my actual review doesn't start until January (since I'm on leave this fall), I wanted my colleagues to have access to the materials earlier, rather than later, so that those who want to work ahead of the deadline can do so.

This is also the completion of my 49th year, which I will celebrate on October 29th, with my mami (who arrives tomorrow!!) and my husband. I have decided that for my 50th birthday I will come up with some big shindig (perhaps even a restorative trip to the Red Mountain Spa, where I've been wanting to go for years). We'll see.

For now, I'm thankful for the way that endings become beginnings and beginnings signal endings. As my favorite month, October, comes to a close, along with these other projects, different ones await (perhaps even a winter quilt?).

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Blessed with fall beauty

On a recent fall walk, my husband took these lovely photos. It is a blessing to live in a such a beautiful place.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The most beautiful day of fall

My husband went out on the bike and took these pictures this afternoon. This was, without a doubt, the most beautiful day around here this fall.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Finished with blocks

Finishing the first stage of the quilted wall hanging, after doing all the cutting and piecing, and most of the pinning, and all the sewing myself on my abuela's rusty-but-still-trusty old Singer gives me a wonderful sense of accomplishment, even when (and probably because) the quilt is full of imperfections.

Quilting is an exercise in patience, something I've always been short on. But having to pin precisely and then, often, having to rip seams apart because I've made a mistake definitely cultivates focus and a commitment to do the best job possible without allowing my compulsively perfectionist side to take over.

Today, I went to a make-up class since I'll be missing one session while my mami is here visiting in a few weeks, so I was able to catch up with all the sewing. However, once I finished the face of the quilt, so to speak, my teacher and I noticed that I'd sewn the upper right hand larger block of four squares the wrong way. The purple was supposed to be where it is now, in the uppermost right-hand corner, and the block with black squares was supposed to be next to the red friendship star. The teacher said I could leave it the way it was but I decided that, when I got home, I would rip the seams (something I've gotten really good at), pin it very carefully, and sew it again the right way.

That's what I just did tonight and the face of the wall hanging quilt we're making is now done. Next Thursday, we'll move on to the borders and the quilt will be nearly completed, to be finished probably on the day before my 49th birthday.

Getting this done, and having it look not half bad, has given me great encouragement to pursue the bedspread quilt that I've made a deposit to purchase the kit for. Once I'm done with this project, and before the semester begins in January, I'm going to start my larger quilt and see how that does.

I really enjoy quilting, even more than I imagined I would when I decided I wanted to give it a try two years ago. I think I can sense my abuela smiling because, while she was not a quilter, she always wanted me to have her sewing machine, even when I hadn't sewn a thing since she had put me through sewing classes when I was a little girl. She must have known that I had it in me all along.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Coming along

There has not been much time for the past week to do much quilting (what with my sister and niece visiting so we could all go see "Legally Blond - The Musical" and then having to take Magellan back to the vet and then going in to Columbus today for several errands and then returning for meetings led by Dr. S about how to better teach writing) but this was the status of the fall quilt project last Thursday, before we learned to make "flying geese." (I don't have those finished so there's no update on those yet.)

The "friendship star" to the far right corner didn't pass muster with my demanding quilting teachers, so that's going to get scrapped for a better star that I plan to finish tomorrow. I'll also have to finish my two "flying geese" so that the blocks for the quilt will be completed and I can learn how to put these together and then frame the blocks with my chosen background fabric.

From this perspective, the quilt looks a lot less fall-ish (read: less burnt oranges, reds and yellows) than I'd envisioned but we'll just have to see what emerges once the blocks sit against their background (the fabric that frames the purple friendship star). I'm looking forward to seeing it all finished in the next few weeks, and I plan to register for a second beginner's quilting class although I doubt that I'll have any time for quilting next semester since I'll be fully back on the job AND being reviewed for pre-tenure purposes. (Plus, I'll be teaching on the day and time that this semester's quilting class has been offered.)

For now, I'm really glad I'm taking the class and the patience that I have to exercise each time I have to rip apart a seam (and it is very often in my case!) is truly surprising and gives me hope that I'm not hopelessly impatient and short-tempered.

As an early birthday present (I turn 49 years old before this month is over), Dr. S gave me an online "course" to develop courage and gratitude, and to learn to "consume hope." It sounds intriguing and today's message was: "No One Belongs Here More Than You. Take Your Place Now," which seemed eerie given that, after my father's death this summer and after a few frustrating developments both personal and professional, I've started wondering where I belong, exactly.

I look forward to doing the course and seeing where that road of discovery takes me, and, in a similar way, I look forward to discovering the quilt that will emerge from my efforts this semester, before my life is, once again, taken over by that other kind of work, the one that gives me a living.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Adiós September

Ten days ago, when September was already on its way out, my husband and I attended an Oldtime Farming Festival in the nearby town, which boasts its status as the geographical center of the state. I'd never been to a festival of this kind so I was ready for all the surprises, one of them being that everything at a farm festival tends to be oversize, including the huge pigs, pumpkins, dahlias and sunflower heads.

The one thing I wasn't ready for was watching tractors doing square dancing, complete with a tractor-driving guy in drag, and tractors fitted with pants and skirts.

Tractors there were for any taste and need, of all colors and makes and years.

But the draft horses were the most beautiful.

The most fun was watching the border collie demonstration as this very intense dog (reminded me of Lizzy) herded a gaggle of ornery geese around several obstacles and a bridge, and then did the same with a group of sheep. After that, it was on to the goat milk stand to have a taste, which was not bad!

As September ends and October arrives, there are no more farming festivals and the farmer's market will become more reduced to apples and pumpkins and other goodies of fall. I will miss the plentiful summer and now must look forward to next year's old and new farm festivals.