Monday, May 31, 2010


When we moved into this house almost a year ago (July 25 will mark our anniversary here), there was this ugly, brown climbing plant dying on a trellis in the front of the house.

We pulled what remained of the climber and thought it was gone for good, so much so that my husband took the iron trellis away and stored it.

Little did we know that the plant was not only not dead at all but was a gorgeous Clematis, which has now flourished and bloomed and is twining itself happily onto the restored trellis.

Of such simple surprises is joy made of.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

On its way

"Knee high by the 4th of July," is the saying around here about corn.

Today, my husband and I took our first motorcycle ride of the early summer and one of the main sights we saw where the corn fields, one after another, boasting plants beginning to shoot out toward the sun.

A few fields had hay bales, too, which is another staple view in these parts.

I may be from the Caribbean, and I do hate the winter, but I also really appreciate the change of the seasons, especially from winter to spring and spring to summer because of all the explosions of life around us.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Summer heat

I feel to absolutely blessed that I can sit and read for long periods of time (something that during this semester I almost forgot I could actually do), especially when I can do so outside, with a view to everything that is greening and blooming and chirping and flitting around me.

I also feel positively giddy when the heat becomes almost tropical (today we went into the high 80s) and I begin to sweat and I get red-cheeked with any amount of exertion outside. I totally loved the time today that I was able to spend in the backyard weeding (can you believe it?!).

In the rush and push to finish this past semester, I had actually forgotten (maybe it was a defense mechanism?) how much simple, unalloyed joy there can be in a series of days that demand little more from you than to be alive and present and aware.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Days of dogs and flowers

Last night, I finally finished with the last of the final papers and posted grades for the last class that was pending so I'm officially done with the Semester from Hell.

Although I'm still smarting from the semester's low points,I am fully loving the feeling of being done with the college work and able to devote myself to my scholarship and to enjoying my free time.

As I have pledged to myself, I will spend more time looking for and at the beauties of late spring and early summer, and my husband, ever willing to oblige, has captured some of the most beautiful of the May flowers around our house.

I'm also taking hints from Lizzy, whose devotion to fun, especially when her best friend, Pepper, comes to visit, is worthy of emulation. As my husband said, while the dog days aren't here yet, they are soon to come. And it was a dog day here, indeed, today, when Lizzy and Pepper were left with tongues hanging after a day of chasing each other around the yard in 85 degrees.

Once Pepper was gone, Lizzy was pooped but I know that, in a similar manner to myself, she'll be ready for another go around tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is, always, another day.

Monday, May 24, 2010

In the sun

These days we're settling into an early summer routine that is well portrayed by Magellan, who loves to bask in the sun (good Puerto Rican cat that she is) any chance she gets to be outside.

Now that both mami and papi are here, and that I'm finally done with the teaching and the meetings (well, except for one more meeting this week), and Commencement obligations, and there's only 11 more final papers to grade, time is moving a lot slower around here and I'm deeply grateful for that.

I have pledged never to have a repeat performance of this most awful of semesters when, I roughly calculate, I read thousands of pages of student papers so that I had hundreds of papers to grade almost every week. It's true that my students, almost all of them, became much better writers by the end of the semester, mostly thanks to that effort. But at what cost to my own time and energy and felicity? That's the question that I cannot ignore in the future.

While I am committed to being the best teacher I can be, and I just can't drop the ball in that court, I do have to remember to balance my commitment to helping my students become better writers and readers with my own need and desire to write and read for my own purposes, and to have a personal life that is more important than my work. I have to realize that I owe myself to myself, first and foremost. The students eventually move on but my life remains with me. That balance between my vocation for teaching and my love of living is the one I will be striving to reach this year, and I will be seeking new pedagogical strategies to apply the next time I walk into the classroom.

That is, I am going to slow down and smell the roses on the way (or, in this case, the lovely peonies in my backyard).

Most of all, I don't ever want to place my blessing of a husband in a constant "wait until I'm done with grading" mode. It should be the other way around. My job should be the one placed on hold so that I can tend, and love, and appreciate the one person who's stuck with me through thickest and thinnest, though bounty and dearth, and who, even as we speak, is nearly heroic in all the support that he is willing to give me and my family in these difficult and so sad times.

And he's also a great source of fun and laughter, as he proved yesterday when he arrived from the city, after purchasing a pair of speakers to connect to his old stereo so he can have music in the garage. He found the speakers for $20 in Craig's List but when he showed up to pick them up from the seller, the speakers were too big to put inside his motorcycle transport bag. To get the speakers here, he had to tape them with masking tape to his motorcycle, as the photo below shows. As he says jokingly, quoting his good friend SF: "You can take the boy out of West Virginia, but you can't take the West Virginia out of the boy."

Personally, I think it's very smart, worked well, and showed his ingenuity and ability not just to think on his feet but on two wheels, too.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Separated at birth?

No, you're not seeing double.

At left is Hugh, one of the four cats of the author of Simon's Cat, one of our favorite animated cartoons on the web. The animator, Simon Tofield, is British, and his short films on cats are spot on and hilarious.

At right, is Hamlet, our cat, who has absolutely no claim to fame other than being a royal p-i-t-a around here.

Today, the Simon's Cat author posted Hugh's picture on his Facebook page, as a "behind-the-scenes" look at the raw material for his inspiration.

I showed it to my husband who did this collage and who thinks Hamlet is "better looking" than Hugh. I think I'd have a hard time telling them apart!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Goodbye Oscar!

He started off as Kitty, and then Zorba, and then we settled on Oscar. He will be Garcia in his new home.

Today, a really nice person from my small college on the hill came and took the fourth cat who'd been living with us since my husband found him abandoned in the nearby trails last week.

It's a really good day for him, but a very sad one for me (he was such a wonderful kitty!), even when I can hardly keep up with three cats and a dog.

Goodbye, Oscar! Even though you weren't here long, you'll be sorely missed.

Finish line

Another week vanished down the maelstrom that has been this semester. But now that classes are finally over and all that is left are the piles and piles of grading, all is much quieter and calmer and the stress has subsided markedly.

The semester, as hard as it was to finish, did not end on a high note. While I heard of colleagues whose students clapped at the end of class, on the last day I had a first-year student complaining about my lack of speed in returning graded material -- and I had to bite my tongue not to bark back about the painstaking and substantial amounts of feedback about their writing that I gave them throughout the semester. Thus, I opted not to attend the department's ice cream social, or the college's social gathering or a dinner given to the students in the summer program to which I have contributed, because I needed some distance and solitude.

I do have wonderful friends and colleagues who, like Dr. S, brought me ice cream to my office so I at least would be able to enjoy a little of the feast. And the former chair of the department, who's on sabbatical this semester, who took time to come into my office to give me invaluable advice, as always. Those friendships and collegial relationships are part of what makes this place often magical in its nature.

There also were students who e-mailed me to say they'd missed me at the social and students who've e-mailed to thank me for all the work I did with them, and seniors who insisted on hugging me on that last day, saying that my class was the best they'd taken at my small college on the hill. It's sad how a few bad apples tend to ruin the taste of an entire bushel, though.

By semester's end, it was hard to figure out where my commitment to my students and my job ended and where I began, especially after I estimated that this semester I spent basically 90 percent of my time on the job -- teaching, grading, reading and lesson prepping for class, commenting on student drafts, meeting with students in and out of office hours, meeting with colleagues and college officials for varied and various reasons, trying to produce scholarship, answering the seemingly endless barrage of e-mails, preparing and submitting proposals for grants (some that I got and some that I didn't get), preparing for and traveling to professional development conferences, meeting departmental demands on senior exercises and honors projects, helping to evaluate senior exercises in other departments, participating in Admissions events and in a search committee, and the sundry other time-consuming activities that sprout unexpectedly on a day-to-day basis.

This means that about 10 percent of my time was devoted to my husband, my furry children, my family, never mind myself. That will most definitely change next year because it's simply not sustainable, physically or psychically, and also because it will lead me to dislike my job, which would be quite ironic, considering how hard I've worked to get and stay here.

I do love my small college on the hill and the teaching and mentoring I do here, but the culture of the place can be almost religious about upholding its mystique of close relationships between students and professors, and about involvement in the community. I don't believe in befriending students since the power differential between professors and students doesn't disappear until, perhaps, when they've graduated (if then). But I do believe in engaged pedagogy and in mentoring students through that committed engagement. That commitment, however, definitely goes way beyond what professors can and are expected to do in larger universities (as my husband and friends like to remind me).

The challenge is to find a balance between what I want to do to in relation to my work, and what I want to do to be a happier human being. The two cannot always be the same thing. I definitely don't want to be so invested in my work that it is all I think, talk or care about. I've come too far and through too much in this life, and have too valuable a marriage and family relations and interests outside my job, to let myself be consumed by it. I've been there, done that, in other lifetimes, and I will not do that again.

Once I'm done with all the grading and submit the final grades, I will neatly fold this semester, both the good and the bad, and place it in the drawer of my memory as a reminder of what I can do better first for myself and then for others. The process of learning how to live my life better and more productively, I have reminded myself, doesn't end because I am almost 50 years old. And I guess that's something to be humbled by and thankful for, especially for a perfectionist control freak like myself.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Raining cats

Unbelievable. Today, as my husband walked Lizzy on the trails, he came across yet another abandoned cat, this young tabby male, who followed him home. The poor thing appears to be blind on his left eye, and while he's very friendly, he's also quite skittish and didn't want to be near the house, which I guess is a good thing because we can't possibly have four cats.

After we fed him, he ran away back into the woods where he had come from, but not before my husband was able to take off his collar, which had a bell but no identifying details. "You don't do a cat any favors when you abandon him in the woods with a bell on," my husband said, given that the bell would announce him to every possible prey he might catch to stay alive.

This afternoon, as I came home with only an hour to spare before I had to rush back to school to screen Jaws for my American Fear students, the cat was back, so we gave him some more food and left him on the porch. When I returned late tonight after the screening, the cat was comfortably seated on our porch furniture so I brought out a small litter box, more food, water and a warm bed that used to belong to Rusty.

When I looked out a few hours ago, he was gone. But if I know anything about cats, he'll be back. And then we'll have to decide whether to take him to the vet and have him neutered and checked out. That's how we got Sophia adopted, so we might have the same luck this time, I told my husband.

As my mother always says, I am a hopeful person.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


Today was the first farmer's market of the year and I loved seeing all the farmers and bakers and plant growers and cheese-makers there. The market was much reduced from what it will be in a few week's time, but it was alright by me because it is a sure sign that spring is assuredly moving into summer.

I picked up a dozen colorful organic eggs and two bushels of glorious rhubarb from an Amish farmer. I cut and froze the rhubarb for the many pies to come this summer, and hope to buy more next Saturday so I can have a good supply for the rest of the year. Most of the time, when I make pies, they are for my husband but the rhubarb pies are also for me, since they are my very favorite.

My husband's best female friend, SF, came to visit from Virginia yesterday evening and was with us for most of the day today before she left again to visit her family in Michigan. We took her to dinner at my small college on the hill's inn, which has a great restaurant, but last night around 8 p.m. it was full of very noisy groups of students and relatives, which made it seem alien for us who are used to being there early in the evening when it's quiet and a really nice place to unwind. Not last night when we could hardly hear each other speak until about 10 p.m. when most everyone else was gone and we were still waiting for dessert.

As a present for my husband, our friend made him two pecan pies (she brought all the ingredients except Karo syrup, which I went to the store to get early this morning along with my fix of Starbucks). We sent the second pecan pie with her to Michigan because I don't eat it and my husband sure didn't want to eat two pies on his own.

The visit was very nice and she was delighted with the new house (well, new to her) and with Lizzy, although much less enthusiastic about the posse of cats, since she's rather violently allergic to them. But, still, she didn't get too bad an allergic reaction (she took some antihistamines last night) and she also really liked my small college on the hill, which she saw from the comfort of the car since it was raining yesterday.

There are storms forecast for tonight and now that the house is quiet I have brought in the bird feeder and suet cage (a raccoon has now twice stolen my suet cages with the suet cakes inside from the bird feeding station -- my husband says the critter must be using the cages as furniture in his den because we have never found them). And it's now time to put to bed a very nice Saturday, one that felt like a welcome and needed break from the seemingly interminable and ever-present work that must get done before classes finally end next week.