Thursday, January 28, 2010

Small miracles

Several years ago, I don't remember exactly when, I bought a pinkish-violet trinitaria (a bougainvillea plant) at a farmer's market because my husband loved the glorious trinitaria plants that grow all over Puerto Rico. We had one such trinitaria bush in the front of our first house in Guaynabo, which had bright magenta flowers and which grew so thick and strong that my husband, in cutting it back, found that it had nearly grown as thick as a tree trunk.

Ohio is definitely not bougainvillea country so it was odd to come across the lonely little plant at the farmer's market. Full of an emigrant's pathetic hope that I might just be able to transplant something of my native land into a completely inhospitable soil, and with visions of summers filled with trinitaria blooms, I brought it home.

In the several years I've had the plant, though, I only remember it blooming perhaps once. Summers have come and gone and the trinitaria has refused to bloom, even when it was set outside in full sun. It has certainly never liked Ohio winters and usually drops most of its leaves, which also tend to turn a worrisome yellow color. I thought it was altogether dormant and on perpetual strike until this winter when, surprise surprise, it has bloomed for the first time in recent memory.

It must really like its position right in front of the large window on our second floor "reading room" and it must be warm enough and dry enough that it finally feels like it might just have found a home away from home. Its delicate, paper thin blooms are a delight to see, especially when the sun hits the plant and the dark green of its leaves contrasts with the almost ethereal color of its few flowers.

It's one of those small miracles that life is filled with but that you really have to stop and look to notice. Otherwise, if one is too busy, too self-involved, or too prone to find reasons to be angry at the world, one might miss them. And what a shame that would be.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lizzy victorious

The games begin in earnest when my husband takes the frozen, gummed-up, raggedy ball from Lizzy and they tussle over it.

My husband then throws it, and Lizzy chases it as it rolls through the freshly fallen snow (yes, more snow last night in Ohio!).

My husband goes to take the ball away but Lizzy wins (well, he gives up trying to chase her).

The look of victory on Lizzy's face, her absolute pleasure at having bested my husband at their chase-me-to-get-the-ball game (so she thinks) is priceless!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Happy birthday blog! And Lizzy and Hamlet!

Last Wednesday, when I got home, my husband surprised me with a homemade chocolate cake with vanilla icing to celebrate that Lizzy and Hamlet had turned two. Back when we lived in Puerto Rico, many years ago, my husband used to surprise me with cakes to celebrate the birthday of our old cat, Nube, who died at age 19 (so there were many cakes throughout her life!).

What I totally missed was that this blog turned three years old on January 21st. Inspired by Dr. S, whose long-standing blog has shifted into a literary and photographic event in its own league, my blog has slowly become more a place to showcase cute pictures of my furry children and of the more mundane happenings of our life in Ohio. It also has helped inspire others, like my mom and my brother, to create blogs of their own.

Happy birthday blog! And happy birthday Lizzy and Hamlet! (BTW, the cake was really good!)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mr. Frog

Last summer, shortly after we'd moved into our new house, we noticed that a new inhabitant had also moved into our tiny pond in the front yard: a miniature brownish-green frog.

The joy that Mr. Frog, as we named him, gave us over the summer and fall months is hard to describe. We always looked for his perky little body to greet us as he sunned on the largest rock of the pond, and to jump, just as quickly, into the water.

We loved to see him, only his nose and eyes protruding out of the water, like a crocodile, while his body was suspended below the water's surface, awaiting for unaware or inattentive insects to eat.

I consulted a biology colleague who was not surprised when I told her of our new tenant. "They often hop for miles looking for their own little pond," she said. Mr. Frog must have hopped for miles, indeed, because we can't think, or know, of any body of water that's near our house.

Once the dreaded Winter came, we often checked the pond to see if we saw any evidence of Mr. Frog being in distress, and my husband mentioned that frogs will hibernate in the bottom of ponds, so we tried hard to believe that was the case. That all was well and Mr. Frog would emerge, triumphant, in the spring.

But when the pond froze solid and a blanket of snow covered it for days, I began to worry in earnest: there was no air for Mr. Frog to breathe.

Today, as we walked out of the house to run an errand, and as the ice in the pond floated on its surface, thawed by the unusually warm temperatures of the past week, there also was Mr. Frog, alive no more. Thus he becomes another one of the too-many casualties of these hateful winters we have in Ohio. Unlike, Mr. Robin, whom we helped to save, there was nothing we could do for Mr. Frog. Perhaps that's why our sorrow today is so heart-felt.

We didn't know Mr. Frog for long but he was such a source of joy and wonder for us that we are grateful for having known him.

Some losses are easily replaceable or forgettable. Others not so much. Others leave a permanent ache and a void. I will miss my grandmother's love, my Ruster Buster, and my Geni Girl for every day I have left to breathe and walk on this earth. Of course, Mr. Frog was by no means in the same category as my grandmother or my beloved, elderly satos.

But he was a sweet part of our new life here, and now he is gone. Despite the shortness of our acquaintance with Mr. Frog, he is deeply mourned and will not be forgotten.

And I guess that's some kind of immortality. And I guess that's one way he has cheated the callousness of Death, which, try as I might, I never can comprehend.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The King legacy

Today was a magical day at my small college on the hill. Our recital hall, which seats about 135 people, was filled to capacity, with people spilling onto the side steps to attend the second of what last year we christened the MLK Jr. Day of Dialogue.

The college president opened the event and then there was a student/faculty panel that discussed "Race, Identity and Privilege," and absolutely rocked. The Gospel Choir performed in closing and then we adjourned to the dining hall to continue the conversation.

The event was inspiring, thought-provoking, moving, and I couldn't feel more proud to be part of this community.

This year we subtitled the event: "With Great Privilege: Rising to King's Challenge," and I actually felt that those who participated and those who attended were all on that same page.

This was a memorable day.

Thank you, Dr. King, for showing us the way.

We can only pray that we live up to your challenge.

"Mother and Daughter"

That's what my husband called this portrait that he took recently of Lizzy and me. I don't usually post personal photos on the blog, plus, in this one, my hair is a mess, my face looks oily, I have no makeup and I'm in my sweatshirt with my favorite MLB Puerto Rico T-shirt underneath. But I like the photo because I look so happy and Lizzy, well, Lizzy looks like Lizzy.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Watching Lizzy run the length of our backyard at full speed is hilarious, a hilarity that gets brought up a notch when, at the end of the yard, on the other side of the fence, there are three deer who remain basically undisturbed by Lizzy's dramatic approach.

Lizzy barks, play bows and manically wags her tail, and scratches the ground with her hind legs in her "I'm an Alpha!" pose, all to no avail. The deer don't budge. In fact, the biggest deer, the one who seems to be the doe that leads the two young fawns, paws at the ground herself with her right foot, as if saying: "Bring it on, little shit of a dog! Come out here and I'll smash your brains with my hooves just for fun!"

I have to admire Lizzy's courage, her unflappable ability to face any of life's challenges (the possible invasion by Amish horses; the three-times-her-weight almost daily rough and tumble with Pepper, her best friend; the little terrier on the TV show that lead her to run around the house several times, barking, baffled that she couldn't find that other barking dog).

That's courage I admire. The ability to roll with the punches, so to speak, to not make a tragedy out of every setback but to turn lemons into lemonade or, alternatively, to suck those lemons with defiance.

"I want to be the angel with the flaming sword," I told a student once during a conversation about ethics and the choices we make in our lives. These days, that's one of my goals. I want to continue to cultivate courage and strength and the determination to change this world, purposefully, for the better.

Once someone compared me to a chihuahua because of how anxious I get. Perhaps. But I'd like to I think that if I'm a chihuahua it's because they're fearless little dogs (and Latin@, to boot!). I aim to be like Lizzy, fearless.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Bluebirds of happiness?

My husband and I were delighted yesterday when we discovered that up to five Eastern bluebirds are coming to drink water from his makeshift heated birdbath/water source, which has stood up well to the frigid temperatures of this chilly, snowy January (we woke this morning to 7 degrees!). (According to the weatherman, there are usually about 7 inches of snow in January but we're already up to almost 16 and the month is not even half over!!)

The bird-feeding station my husband built is also very popular these days with all kinds of birds (he's identified 27 different species that either come to the feeder or hang out in our backyard), which entertains us and the cats to no end.

I also put out food for the deer and we're going to get a salt block (or some such thing) that also provides nutrients for deer and wildlife during these horrid food-less months when the ground is covered by snow and almost all that is green is dead. Anything that I can do to thwart the cold, death-like grip of Winter, I will do!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Snow diving

Lizzy's favorite sport, now that we have 7 or 8 inches of powdery snow on the ground, is to go snow diving. That means that she throws herself into snow drifts, digs herself in face forward almost to her torso, and spends time under the snow sniffing around for God knows what.

Today, she got her first walk in the trails in weeks because the frigid cold just doesn't act as an incentive for either myself or my husband to do our doggy duty and take her out. Instead, we'd rather get Pepper, her beloved dog friend, and bring her here for a play date.

Also this morning, we drove Pepper's owners and their kids to the airport and now my husband went to get Pepper to give the dogs some eagerly anticipated play time now that the day has "warmed up" to all of 21 degrees, with a windchill that makes it feel like 12.

That's much better than tonight, when temperatures in this area should plummet to 6 degrees, according to the weather forecast. January sucks, there's just no two ways about that. In fact, the weatherman was celebrating the fact that, next week, we should get up to 34 degrees. It'll feel positively summery, let me tell you.

While Lizzy and Pepper chase each other in chest-deep snow, I keep myself busy preparing my three classes and have succeeded in scheduling them so that I will teach everything I've already read before spring break and can read any new books during our two-week break. That should prevent me having to be constantly "catching up" at the same time that I'm teaching, which I absolutely hate to do.

My friend IL and I had a debate this morning in my car, as I drove to the airport, while my husband rode behind us in the car driven by her husband. She, a clinical psychologist, claims that making lists and double-checking things feeds anxiety, rather than appeases it because it makes the anxiety -- the need to double- and triple-check things or check them off a list -- the center of one's attention.

I had to totally disagree. I'm an devoted list-maker and feel a lot less stressed when I can scratch off things from my sundry lists, as opposed to forgetting something important because I didn't include it on a list, which is what happens. What I don't write down flutters away from my consciousness and simply doesn't register. Lists make me feel in control, forgetting things makes me feel like a fool. I think the psychological research is definitely wrong on this one. And, even if they're not, I'll keep making lists and double- and triple-checking myself, no matter how OCD that may be.

The good news is that I don't have that much left to do before classes begin in about 9 days, but I also have a few paper proposals to get done by month's end for upcoming conferences, and also have on my To Do list to work on my book proposal after getting good, encouraging feedback on my dissertation at MLA.

All in all, I like keeping myself busy, especially when I can set my own agenda so, like Lizzy and her snow diving, I'm trying to make the most of these wide open days when we're practically snowbound.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Día de Reyes

Twenty years ago today, my brother and sister-in-law got married in a lovely, ancient church in Old San Juan and then we all walked to a nearby restaurant to celebrate. Even though I'm big on dates when I teach literature (they provide the context, I insist to my students, for them to understand the texts better), I don't actually remember dates much in my own life or "know" most of my life through dates.

My brother's wedding I do remember vividly, though, and can wonder at, and be grateful for, how far we've all come since then, in mostly very good ways. True, we may not be as thin or as young or as full of youth's potential, but we are all now more settled and more self-knowing and, I believe, happier in a more mature, if less ecstasy v. misery, scale.

So much has happened in those twenty years that I hardly recognize myself. But that's one thing I appreciated most about life: that, as long as you're alive and healthy, each day provides an opportunity for change, for leaving what we don't like about ourselves or others behind, for making a brand new start. Every day that dawns gives us a chance to make a difference in our own lives and those of others.

On this Three Kings Day, which is also my brother's and sister-in-law's anniversary, I celebrate the wonderful difference they make every day on the lives of their three luminous children, in the lives of our and her family, and in the lives of every one they come across with. God knew what he was doing when he put those two together.

For our part, today is the day that my husband took "Our House in Winter" photograph, and even though I dislike January most of any month of the year, our home looks beaming and welcoming against the stark black and white landscape. Like the promise of sunshine once the dark clouds roll by.

Much has changed in these past twenty years. That's absolutely true. But of all the 48 years of my life, it is now, in this present moment, that I am at my best, my happiest, my most fulfilled. For that I am deeply, humbly, eternally thankful.

On this Three Kings Day, gratitude is the greatest gift I have to offer.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Buried in snow

Bitter cold and snowy. That describes the beginning of 2010 in these parts, where we've had several inches of snow already and are expecting another storm to hit Thursday and Friday, dumping even more snow and bringing "sharply colder weather," to quote the weatherman.

"'Sharply colder weather?" I said. "Isn't that how we'd describe what we've been having a lot of lately?"

But, no, it turns out that this weekend in Ohio we will see temperatures of 5 degrees on Sunday morning and that's in the city. We, in the outskirts and to the north, will surely dawn even colder.

Oh, how I dislike January, especially given that there is so much of it!

Lizzy and Pepper, on the other hand, absolutely LOVE this weather and chase each other around in the four-inch-deep snow like it was grass, showing absolutely no discomfort or preference for being inside the warm house.

As my husband points out, I'm very lucky that my good Bronx-Puerto Rican friend has as crazy a dog as my own and that they get along so well. "Better than you two," my husband likes to say, even though I think we get along just fine.

The snowman above was courtesy of her and her son, who came to take care of Lizzy while my husband and I were traveling on the 1st and built what I think is a rather cool snowman. It's enough to cheer my January chilled heart every time I look out onto our lovely yard and all I see is a cold blanket of white.

P.S. My husband calls that photo he took of Lizzy and Pepper the "Dogs of (Snow) War." :)

Friday, January 1, 2010

The first day of the new year

This was the view early this morning from our room at the Maryland Inn in Annapolis, where we spent Wednesday and Thursday nights as part of the second leg of our last trip of the year.

The inn, which has a Starbucks in its erstwhile basement tavern space, dates from before the 18th century, is quite picturesque, and our room was very nice and comfortable. Our only complaint, which I imagine may be a critique as old as the inn itself, is that it straddles two thoroughfares so it didn't make for very peaceful sleeping in the wee hours of the New Year. That's because enough fire engines and ambulances and police cruisers sped by our second-floor window as to force my husband to get up bleary eyed to see if we were missing the Storm of the Century. But it wasn't the weather, probably just a usually busy night for law enforcement in a moderately large city.

We left Annapolis, where my sister lives with my three luminous god-children, around 8 a.m. and arrived, safe and sound, back in our home around 4:30 p.m., thereby avoiding the dusk and all the complications that travel on a very cold day around such time adds to any trip.

Now, warm and cozy and relatively re-settled into our home, with the furry children all in their appointed places, I can't help but hope that 2010 will be better for all of us. Here's to hope! Happy New Year everyone!