Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Y de gatos negros también

Hamlet definitely has the right idea today.

De sapos y ranas

While Mr. Frog is long gone, and I keep hoping that some other little frog becomes the tenant of the now-abandoned tiny pond (this time we'd make sure he didn't spend the killing winter in there), a few nights ago, while it was raining cats and dogs, this hoary toad waited patiently on the front steps for the downpour to end so s/he could go about her/his business.

Mrs. Toad, as I have named her (despite being completely unsure of how to gender these creatures), hasn't been seen since. But, as my husband pointed out, she won't be moving into the pond anytime soon since she's a reptile and not amphibian, like a frog.

Still, it's nice to know that she shares our home with us, somehow.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Dogwood afternoons

Another week sped by in a nearly stupefying blur of work, including search committee meetings and phone interviews. Then there were the honors weekend obligations, including going over two 100+-page theses, sitting in on three senior theses defenses (40 minutes each) and then spending nearly three hours with colleagues and outside examiners, discussing the merits of seven honors projects. This latter part all happened yesterday, on a Sunday.

Of course, this all meant that, aside from planning classes for the past two weeks, there has been no time to do the grading that still awaits for me in prodigious piles, mostly because I assign too much writing. And that's basically because I see the pay off in most students and my evaluations consistently mention this as part of why they feel challenged and why they learn a lot in my classes.

I hope that now that the search is basically over (except for campus visits that will happen in the next few weeks), and honors is finally done, the waters will all come back to splashing, rather than near-drowning, levels and I will get a semblance of my life back. One of my Latina advisees saw my husband yesterday at my small college on the hill's marathon and asked him, with little irony, if he had to pen himself in my appointment book (as she has to do) to see me. "She knows a little too much," my husband quipped after telling me the story.

Meanwhile, the dogwoods are preciously in bloom and, although there has been rain for the past two days and temperatures aren't budging beyond the 50s, the promise of 70-degree temperatures returning later this week and weekend makes it bearable. I am also happy that this is the penultimate week of classes so that by May 7 my time, finally, becomes my own again.

I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to spring 2011 when I'll be on my third-year leave, after what promises to be another busy semester this fall because I will also have to teach three classes (though I won't have as many students as this semester) and I will be under scrutiny for the process of pre-tenure review, which means that every member of my department will come visit my classes!

However, after preparing a short vitae for inclusion with an application for a very competitive summer stipend, so that I can revise an article that I submitted to a journal in July and have now a "revise and resubmit" request from, I've decided that after MLA in January, I won't be doing any more conferences for a long, long time.

Participating in the search committee has made me much more aware of what a strong resume should contain to be highly competitive in our discipline and, based on that criteria, I finally feel like I can lay down my sword and shield and rest, for a while. Yep, it's definitely time to stop and gaze at these glorious dogwoods.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tulips in the sun!

Simply magnificent.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


We moved into our home in July of last year (I can hardly believe this year is moving so fast that we're only a few months of our first anniversary here!), so we missed the surprises that spring brings as plants and flowers sprout from the ground, unbidden. We're making a lot of discoveries this time around.

Lovely tulips have begun opening all over the backyard, providing colorful company for the fragrant white and deep blue lilacs and the many buds that are in evidence everywhere. Even the peonies, my very favorites, have started showing their unpromising heads, which will bloom into wondrous regalia later in the summer.

The pansies are annuals so I bought those at the supermarket recently but now they're doing really well in their respective planters.

The redbud tree is showing signs of impending life in its appropriately named color.

But the belles of the ball are the yellow and orange tulips, which are now opening on one side of the flower beds. There's a whole other set of tulips, which have yet to open, on the opposite side and we're looking forward to that surprise.

Spring here is a gift, for sure.

(BTW, these photos are all taken by my husband, who's long become this blog's best photographer.)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Con la lengua por fuera

This is how Lizzy looked today after she spent about an hour running in the back yard chasing the plastic doughnut that our wonderful friends, who have been spending this academic year in Exeter, gave her as a present before they left (that was one among a veritable chest of toys that they brought over for her!).

The yellow fuzzy and squeaky toy is Lizzy's favorite and my husband humors her by throwing it endless times across the yard and she chases it at full speeds, looking like a short, stubby, albino gazelle. However, Lizzy doesn't like the fetch game in the sense that she doesn't bring the toy back (that's too submissive for her). Instead, she wants my husband to chase her around the yard so she can prove how fast and smart she is. It is really quite hilarious, and quite the workout for everyone involved.

After a very cold day (it's 45 degrees out there right now), we've had some sunshine this afternoon, and that gave us a chance to enjoy the outside. Tomorrow is supposed to go up to the high 60s, so that'll be much more pleasant and perhaps then I can take Lizzy for a walk on the trails, which we both enjoy so much. As of today, I only have four weeks left to this semester and am really looking forward to May 7 when classes will be finally over for this academic year.

Today, the grandmother of one of my students came to visit my Another America class and, thankfully, the discussion of Like Water for Chocolate and, later, of When I Was Puerto Rican went great. The students were fired up and I tried a new thing for that class, group work, which I think spiced up our lives a little and yielded a good, if not very long, discussion. I love it when 80 minutes go by and it doesn't feel like it was that long.

"It was a great class!" my student's grandmother said after we'd adjourned. "I used to be a teacher and I could identify your pedagogical moves. Now I know why my granddaughter loves this class so much."

High praise, indeed. I sure am glad that my last-minute decision to change our usual routine worked so well, and that she was pleased. Let's hope that next semester, when my entire department visits my classes as part of my pre-tenure review, things go that well, too!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Fuenteovejuna in the 21st century

Last year, I attended a grant writing workshop where a new colleague in the Spanish Department and I got to talking during a break, getting to know each other a little better.

Apart from the language itself, he teaches Golden Age Spanish Literature and after he told me about his classes, we bemoaned the fact that my small college on the hill seems fixated (like most colleges of its kind) on Anglo texts. That's when I said something like:

"Wouldn't it be great if we could do a bilingual reading of Fuenteovejuna (the Lope de Vega play in which a whole town kills its ruler and then no one can be found guilty)?"

And he said: "I actually know of a bilingual script for the play!"

That's how we both got to thinking that we should apply for a college grant to do a dramatic bilingual reading of the 17th-century play and he suggested that we include a fellow colleague from the Drama Department in our planning. The three of us applied for a community grant and, though we didn't get all the funds we requested, we did get enough to buy the bilingual scripts.

In the end, we had about 15 students, native Spanish speakers, Drama students and Anglo students studying Spanish, who signed up for and performed the reading. We had three rehearsals and the performance was today. And it totally rocked!

My Spanish Department colleague did a fantastic job adapting the play for a 40-minute production and the Drama professor did a great job in getting the students (and another Spanish professor) to get into their roles.

I basically wrote the grant, did the advertising, and will write the report about the grant so while I did not contribute much to the endeavor itself, I feel good that I helped diversify the artistic offerings at my small college on the hill.

After the performance, a group of us met for lunch to discuss the issues raised by the play, including the fact that we had decided to have the characters that represent power (the Commander, Isabella and Ferdinand, etc.) speak in English, and the people of Fuenteovejuna (Frondoso, Laurencia, Don Esteban, etc.) speak in Spanish. The conversation over lunch was very engaged and I felt so proud that I teach at a place where students are so open-minded and eager for new cultural experiences and exchanges.

Before the performance, both my colleague and I wondered why we had gotten ourselves into yet one more thing that was taking up precious and at-a-premium time that we simply don't have at this point of the semester. But after the performance, he said: "I'm very proud of us." And his wife told me in an aside that he almost never says that about himself, that he is his most severe critic.

After seeing how much fun the students had with the performance, and how engaged was our sparse but enthusiastic audience, we were both glad we did this and we both agreed that we would simply have to do it again next year.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

First things

Today, my husband and I took our first motorcycle ride of the year and it was wonderful. My husband always picks great roads to go on and always seems to know where we're going and how to get back so all I have to do is sit tight, hold on, and enjoy the ride and the views.

Our destination today, before we headed back toward the sunset, toward home, was a dam built on a river but one which (other than the river) has no water. It's like those famous bridges over land in Alaska...

The motorcycle ride culminated a very nice Easter Sunday, which began with my finally getting to attend mass at the Catholic Church in our nearby town. After teaching The Exorcist to my American Fear students, it was rather odd to have the priest ask us to renew our vows as Catholics by renouncing Satan. I got that right but I think I muddled my communion because I only took the host and didn't dip it in or take a sip of the wine. And I think both must be together or the full effect is lost...

But since I'm basically ignorant of the Catholic liturgy in English (they do have a Spanish mass on the last Sunday of the month, which I've been planning to attend for a while but have never made it yet) I'll have to get up to speed at some point. The less exciting part was having to pray for Pope Benedict, who, on top of having been a young Nazi and actively protecting pedophiles, strikes me as the worst pope I can remember. Not that I'm too crazy about the position of pope to begin with (in that I'm more of a Protestant, truth be told).

Regardless of my quibbles with Catholicism, it was a nice way to start my Easter, which got even better when I did a two-mile walk with Dr. S through grassy trails toward my small college on the hill's environmental center. There, we walked through the recently burned prairie and then on to the garden, where we stopped for a while at a small pond to ponder the imponderables of nature and to have fun observing the frogs and the large, orange fish that seemed to be having quite a nice day themselves in their habitat.

I didn't do any school work today but I really needed such a day, one in which the focus wasn't my job, as it is every day, but one that felt like a Sunday, like a day of rest. I'm glad to say I did accomplish that so I now can turn back to my piles of pending things to do before my last five weeks of the semester begin tomorrow.


I'm so often the one who's leaned on and who has to provide support, nurture and strength that I often forget the simple joy of having friends (in addition to a loving husband), who are willing and able to help me bear a heavy load.

These days, I'm grateful for the blessing of having just such friends.

I'm sharing here the poem that Dr. S, very appropriately, sent me today.

Practice resurrection.

I like the sound of that.

P.S. Yesterday, a parade of wild turkeys went through our back yard, beyond the fence, with the toms in full regalia and the females scurrying behind. It was as royal a display as I've ever seen!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Wordsworth was right about the daffodils

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling leaves in glee;
A poet could not be but gay,
In such a jocund company!
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

The actual daffodils are from our garden. The photos are courtesy of my husband. The poem is William Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud."